Billy, The Monster and Me (Manchester)

This new children’s show by Catherine Manford and Sarah Molyneux runs at New Century House as part of the 24:7 Festival

Billy, The Monster and Me is so successful the producers ought to be put in charge of sorting out the economy. The play succeeds in entertaining – actually entrancing – the most difficult audience of all: very young children.

The vital element of the title is ‘Me’ – the young target audience whose involvement so important. They are kept entertained prior to curtain up drawing monsters and hunting their footprints around the venue. Writers and producers Catherine Manford and Sarah Molyneux take a very hands-on approach standing at the side of the stage warming up the audience and prompting their participation.

Billy (Nathan Morris) struggles to complete the construction of his castle. Fearing that this will prevent him fulfilling his destiny as a hero Billy seeks helps from his parents (Christabel Brown and Calum Scott who perform all other roles) and torments his sister. As he returns to his project Billy is horrified to find evidence that a monster has sneaked into the house and is stalking his family.

The play features fine performances and excellent physical comedy. Nathan Morris does not condescend to act like a child he just gets down and dirty and becomes one. He struts around the stage with a mile-wide grin completely engaging his young audience who accept him as one of their own. Brown and Scott deliver the best kind of performance – it doesn’t look like they’re acting. Wandering vaguely around the stage they display impeccable comic timing; catching or ducking, apparently casually, any object that flies in their way.

Director Alex Tole fills the play with items that the young audience can easily identify. Toys and storybooks litter the stage the backdrop of which comprises a castle constructed from the comfortable debris of a child’s bedroom.

Audience involvement is a complete success. The children are unfamiliar with rhetorical questions so when Billy asks’ What did I do to upset her?’ they simply shout out a list of offences. Their responses become so enthusiastic that the actors have to pause while the noise dies down.

At the launch of the 24/7 Festival Billy, The Monster and Me was promoted by a gloriously cheeky film preview. You felt that if the play could equal the quality of the preview the Festival would have a winner. It does and they have.

– Dave Cunningham