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Theatre: Billy Wonderful (Everyman)

Beautiful game misses the mark in places, says Philip Key

Published on April 12th 2009.

Theatre: Billy Wonderful (Everyman)

THERE are those who consider football to be great theatre. But does it really transfer to the theatrical stage?

The Everyman Theatre has a pretty good try with the football play Billy Wonderful by Newton-le-Willows writer Nick Leather.

The theatre has gone “in-the-round” to suggest a sort-of football stadium, with the audience sitting on all four sides; there are football banners hanging from the walls; there is an electronic scoreboard; and the cast of five is attired in football shirts, two Everton, two Liverpool and a ref. Oh, and a ball gets kicked a bit.

The setting is a Liverpool/ Everton derby in which 19-year-old Billy Walters is making his derby debut for the Blues.

The game continues on and off in a slow motion sort of way while Billy's story is told in flashback and flashforward.

To be frank, it's a little confusing, particularly as the cast wear the football gear throughout, whether they are acting nine-year-olds or older men. Apart from Billy (David Lyons) and his dad (Neil Caple), everyone plays numerous characters, from school friends and commentators to club bosses and seedy agents.

At the heart of it is the rise and fall of Billy, from £6,000-a-week star to failing footballer with a dodgy knee.

By today's football standards it is a bit of a fantasy world with local lad making good and not a foreign player in sight. Good heavens, even the fictional Roy Race (aka Roy of the Rovers) makes a brief appearance.

In its way it is a morality tale as the eager Billy achieves success, leaves his widower father to move in an apartment ("it's not a flat!" he tells dad) and lives the high life ("smoking and drinking") only to be brought down with injury, age and a change of club boss.

He also learns about being a team player.

Taking the central role of Billy ("Billy Walters Walks on Water" declares one banner), ex-Brookside actor David Lyons hands in a personable performance, eager and cynical at the same time while suitably anguished when his career takes a dive. He works particularly well with Neil Caple as his former footballer father, now coaching youngsters.

Rob Law, Michael Ledwich and Shaun Mason sketch in the other characters. Given the amount of humour associated with football on Merseyside, little of it comes through in Leather's play. This is not a comedy but a rather serious look at the life of an average footballer, as opposed to the superstars. Okay, there are some gags but not so many as you would notice.

There are some nice observational comments and the dialogue crackles along. Its main weakness is the lack of strong scenes, most of them being extremely short and lost in all the footballing moments.

The play was originally toured around non-theatrical venues on Merseyside so some of the staging by director Serdar Bilis is decidedly barebones. There has obviously been a lot of rewriting, too, as much of the script which forms part of the programme has little to do with the action which finally made the stage. The original script suggests a halftime interval but this production runs 90 mins without one.

The result, however, is passable enough. Not one of the great Liverpool plays but interesting in its own way.
*Billy Wonderful plays at the Everyman until April 4. 0151 708 4776.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ockerMarch 19th 2009.

Editorial says...Rant removed for being offensive.

sueMarch 19th 2009.

fabulous play went with all the family to see it at west everton community centre and it lives up to its name... wonderful,........ are you sure you dont support man u !

Former Broadsheet Echo ReaderMarch 19th 2009.

Trousers are 'kecks' or 'keks' (derived from 'kicks'), never "Kex".'Kex' was a manufacturer of tennis balls.

faded kex and linen shirtMarch 19th 2009.

Another triumph of the imagination that celebrates the diverse and dynamic spirit of Liverpool. So true to life and bristling with sidesplitting jokes and honest to goodness scouse witticisms and wisdom.Tell all your friends and book a coach party to this revolutionary performance.Liverpool once again proves it is the centre of the artistic universe in this country.

PIGGYMarch 19th 2009.

What a lacklustre review. I went to see this play earlier in the week and loved it. Great to see so many young lads in the audience with their Dads, enjoying every second. I disagree that it misses the humour - there are some great laughs in it - and the setting with all the banners is stunning.

liverpool looMarch 19th 2009.

Kex is an abbreviation of Clothing External - misspelled Klothing in Liverpool workhouses of the 19th century. They were the lower part of outer garments issued to males working on jute picking and made from very hard denim.These trews were the original one size fits all construction and young boys would often keep one pair for ten years growing into them until they were passed to the next generation of unfortunates scrabbling for a desparate livelihood.

Rusty SpikeMarch 19th 2009.

Oh, 'faded kex and linen shirt' you are awful, and perhaps just a tad jaded in the 'let's see if we can get away with a bit of sarcasm without being spotted' arena. The point is to be subtle, although maybe these are your true feelings. Ooops. In any case, your remarks are way over the top and, bless them, the folk involved with Billy Wonderful might take you at face value. If Mr Phil Key, a doyen of the arts world on Merseyside, says this show 'passable', I suspect he actually means 'not very good, go and watch the ferries on the river'....Still, your remarks are a very good effort for a first press release. Keep at it.

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