Middle Ground at the Civic
Josef Locke on the wireless and a superb period set [designed by director Michael Lunney] set the mood for Billy Liar, the story of a lad whose fantasies are his way of breaking free from his stifling family. Even the curtain music sounded like the sig tune from a sitcom.
There was no weak link in the cast, either, with Chris Hannon as Billy Fisher, with mobile features and a hint of Bean, a touch of McGowan. The unforgettable Barbara, eating orange and keeping Billy at bay, was Lauren Drummond. Lovely character work from Sally Sanders as the batty old granny, fussing about her tablets and sharing her woes with the sideboard cupboard. The Fisher parents were Helen Fraser [Barbara in the classic film version] and Dicken Ashworth. Their two-hander after her mother's demise was touchingly done.
But like much of the piece [arguments and rows aside] it did seem very slow-paced. This was the start of a longish tour, so maybe the pace will be tightened. I'd be looking to take 15 minutes off, guys. And, though I liked the snap reactions, with lighting and sound to indicate young Billy's inner world [machine-gunning his girlfriend, lobbing a grenade at his gran] there is a law of diminishing returns here, as the same effect slows the action a second time.
Still, an enjoyable reminder of a classic piece, still thankfully quite often revived. See Middle Ground at Westcliff, Greenwich, Eastbourne, Ipswich and many other touring dates till 6 June.