A Play, A Pie and A Pint – Billy (The Days of Howling) (Traverse: 22 – 26 March, ’16)

“A dark, eye-opening fable of flawed humans and why they do what they do”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

On the surface, this could so easily be “Mumsnet: the play”: a tale of a mother passing judgement on the parents of another child that attends the same nursery as her daughter, juxtaposed with an admin worker whose main priorities are arranging for a pinboard to be put up in her office and responding to radio phone-in competitions. But scrape away that layer of shallow prejudice and what lies beneath is a dark, eye-opening fable of flawed humans and why they do what they do.

The play is written almost exclusively as three intertwining monologues, allowing us to understand multiple viewpoints, with rare yet powerful instances of dialogue when the characters’ paths cross. Director Rosie Kellagher shrewdly opts for simple staging throughout, with each character in their own part of the stage, and keeps the action slick, resulting in an engaging performance I couldn’t take my eyes off.

The writing in this piece is very clever, and quite understandably of award-winning quality, in how it teases and develops action throughout. Early on we are led to be on the side of Alice’s Mum in her mission to ensure a child is properly looked after, while Billy’s Dad comes across as the kind of lout we all love to hate. The tensions are clear, but as the action unwinds and we learn more about who’s who and what has led them to where they are, perspectives slowly change, and at the play’s chilling denouement I was left unsure as to who I should feel most sorry for and whether they really had it coming.

Rosalind Sydney displays great depth, power and fragility as the do-goody Alice’s Mum, from her cutting judgements to her exquisite intonation as a heard-it-all-before call centre operative. It’s hard to believe that Anthony Strachan is anything other than the foul-mouthed, donut-eating, wrestling fanatic Billy’s Dad given the integrity of his performance, while Hilary Lyon is a master of deadpan comedy as the Admin Lady. The acting is controlled, consistent and utterly believable from all three.

In saying that, there were a couple of moments when the action didn’t quite ring true and seemed a little far-fetched (an anecdote of spending 20 hours waiting in A&E being one example), while the weight of action seemed to leave one character a little redundant for the second half of this performance. However, on the great scale of things, these are very minor idiosyncrasies to what is on the whole a compelling production.

For a show that’s this energetic, chopping and changing between three stories with such rapidity, you do have to be on your toes to keep up, but it’s absolutely worth it. Get in there quick.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 March)

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