Review: Billy Liar, Belper Players

When you have young actors with the talent of Joseph Riley among your ranks it must be tempting to chose a production so you can match them to a character they were born to play.

I have no idea if that’s what Belper Players did when selecting Billy Liar as their spring show but the leading role definitely had that young man’s name written all over it and he clearly relished the part.

Whether he was lumbering about in his dressing gown dishevelled and sleepy-eyed, wooing the ladies with his sexual charm or weaving his way through a maze of his fibs and fabrications, Riley was excellent.

That’s not to say this was a one-man show. He might have been the central character, but surrounding him were a strong team of actors, not least the brilliant Mik Horvath who gave a tremendous performance as feckless Billy’s exasperated, hard working father Geoffrey.

He and Verna Bayliss as the long-suffering mother Alice, were a good solid post-war middle aged couple struggling to understand the flawed hero in their midst.

Billy has three girls on the go. He has two of them fighting over one engagement ring and a third wanting him to run away and get married.

Lou Jenkins perfected the part of the frigid, orange-eating Barbara who dreams of the perfect home and family while Brianna Undy’s feisty and ferocious Rita came across as a girl you definitely wouldn’t want to mess about.

Mollie Middleton is another young actor to watch in the future. She did a good job of bringing out the tender-hearted side of Billy’s old flame Liz.

What is always impressive about a Belper Players production is the attention to detail and the set design. Everything from the newspaper Geoffrey was reading to the Tetley’s ashtray and Dionne Warwick singles on the sideboard were carefully chosen.

They were using  a newly created studio at The Strutt Centre in Belper and director Jane Wilton had made the whole occasion a totally immersive experience for the audience from the minute they began to walk up the stairs to the auditorium.

The Players even extended their efforts into the bar during the interval with extra entertainment and members of the cast in character. If you go along then make sure you join in the fun it would be a shame to miss it.

The rest of the cast not mentioned so far were Lisa Benson as Florence Boothroyd (grandma) and Andrew Barlow as Arthur Crabtree.

Taking part in the extra curricular activities were children from Propbox Theatre, Isabelle Graham, Isabella Margiotta, Bella Stevens, Thomas Dickinson, George Dickinson and Oscar Harrington; John Briscoe as Cliff the Compere; Tracey Wilkinson and Tina Hampton as the Sounds of the Sisters  and Roger Whiting, John Taylor, John Briscoe and Jeremy Crane as Shadrack and the Shovellers.

The set design was by Barry Brown and lighting and sound by Jamie Vella.

Billy Liar, by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, can be seen at The Strutt Centre, Belper until Saturday April 21. For tickets click here

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