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An undemanding introduction to Billy Liar at BLT

PUBLISHED: 14:24 18 November 2009 | UPDATED: 10:11 12 August 2010

WHEN REALITY STRIKES: Steve Williams, Tricia Osborne-King, Holly Hewitt and Jo Rosewell in Billy Liar at Bromley Little Theatre.

WHEN REALITY STRIKES: Steve Williams, Tricia Osborne-King, Holly Hewitt and Jo Rosewell in Billy Liar at Bromley Little Theatre.

A FAITHFUL retelling of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall s 1960 play, the Bromley Little Theatre s production of Billy Liar proved to be an amusing, if undemanding, evening s entertainment, writes Mark Campbell. In what is essentially a celebration of ap

A FAITHFUL retelling of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's 1960 play, the Bromley Little Theatre's production of Billy Liar proved to be an amusing, if undemanding, evening's entertainment, writes Mark Campbell.

In what is essentially a celebration of apathy, the story sees undertaker's clerk Billy Fisher (Simon Peel) juggling three girlfriends whilst looking forward to a new life in London as gag-writer to a famous comedian.

But Fisher is an inveterate fantasist who doesn't even have the energy to post the firm's complimentary calendars off. They're still locked up in his sideboard from last year.

His constant embittered rants against life, the universe and everything (mostly everything) are punctured by moments of abject pity in which you see the real Billy - a lonely little boy escaping within himself as protection against the harsh realities of life.

Set in the same impoverished working-class Midlands as John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, the play comes to the same depressing conclusion as its more serious predecessor: life's a bitch and then you die. But at least this one has the advantage of a few good jokes along the way.

Simon Peel is clearly too old to play the 19-year-old Billy, but his performance is so strong that it barely matters. In fact, it makes the whole piece even more affecting if you think of the character in his early 30s, still living with his parents and yearning for a better life. As his father Geoffrey, Steve Williams provides the emotional bedrock that prevents the play from being entirely frivolous. It's a great, naturalistic performance that turns this character - so easily a walking cliché - into a very human presence.

Tricia Osborne-King is similarly truthful in tone as Billy's mother Alice. Her reaction to the offstage death of her mother (Margaret Glenn) is beautifully played.

Martyn East is Billy's friend Arthur, while Jo Rosewell, Holly Hewitt and Charlie Mafham play the very different girlfriends extremely well. Director Paul Campion ensures that the dialogue is delivered in snappy style. A tad slower and this could have been a painfully protracted evening. The excellent cut-away set, showing lounge, hallway and street, is designed by Jan Greenhough. Furnishings and costumes seem perfectly of the era. Sympathetic lighting by Phil Swallow bathes the set in a rosy glow of nostalgia.

Misplaced? Probably.

Mark Campbell

* The next production at Bromley Little Theatre is a pantomime version of Peter Pan by J M Barrie from 11-19 December. Tickets: 07917 853621.

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