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Billy Liar (Leeds)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It's fifty years since Billy Liar’s West End debut; now at West Yorkshire Playhouse Billy Fisher is still tying himself up in knots with two fiancés, despairing parents and a boss on the verge of discovering his inept practices.

There’s much to recommend this entertaining production, not least Colin Richmond’s beautifully detailed post-war sitting room set and director Nick Bagnall’s skilful evocation of the various different worlds we all live in: Gran (Ann Firbank) natters on, ignored; Alice Fisher (Gillian Bevan) whirls about to music whilst laying the table; her husband Geoffrey, a gruff Garry Cooper, can’t embrace his son’s newfangled ways.

A drop in pace mid-way through the first half is rescued when second fiancé Rita enters the fray: Emily Aston’s character is a volatile element ready to explode, compared with prudish Barbara (Charlotte Mills), the chemical equivalent of lead, steady and boring as they come.

Paul Ryan-Carberry is an appealing Billy, but doesn’t quite have the requisite compelling aura, more truant school boy than inspired dreamer. Billy only hits his stride when Liz – his real love interest, a captivating Rebecca Whitehead matching him dream for adventurous dream – comes onto the scene in the second half, although perhaps that’s the point.

Billy Liar isn’t as belly-aching as it could be, but it's still a spirited revisiting of Keith Waterhouse’s and Willis Hall’s classic.

- Vicky Ellis


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