mon 24/06/2024

Dear Billy, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - powerful tribute to Scottish pride | reviews, news & interviews

Dear Billy, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - powerful tribute to Scottish pride

Dear Billy, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - powerful tribute to Scottish pride

Celebration of Scotland's iconic comedy legend Billy Connolly is a moving portrait of a nation

Mistaken identity? Gary McNair delivers his Billy Connolly tribute with brilliant stand-up energySally Jubb

Anyone expecting to see the Big Yin himself, Gary McNair breathlessly explains as he dashes on stage, should nip out and ask the box office for a refund. It’s an ice-breaking gag that sets the tone nicely for McNair’s fast-moving, often snort-inducingly funny tribute to Billy Connolly, whose production by the National Theatre of Scotland is touring the country until the end of June.

And yes, there’s an undeniable resemblance between the two men, something that Glasgow-based actor/writer McNair puts to good use at certain key points in his big-hearted celebration of the legendary Scottish comedian.

But despite its roughly biographical structure – we follow Connolly from a troubled childhood to the Glasgow shipyards, then through folk music to international comedy glory – this isn’t really a show about Billy Connolly at all. Instead, Dear Billy is a show about Scotland, pieced together from apparently hundreds of interviews conducted across the nation about just what Connolly means to individual Scots, how they might have encountered him, even what they’d ask him if they met him.

McNair prances nimbly from microphone to microphone, delivering the eclectic interview material verbatim, and staying touchingly faithful to its narrators’ hesitations, stumbles, mis-remembered gags and dodgy impressions. There’s the guy who knows every word of Connolly’s crucifixion routine, only to (naturally) get almost every detail wrong. Or the woman who’d consumed far too much fluid at one of Connolly’s famously long shows, with predictably messy results. In among the comic vignettes – and the downright bizarre observations – are occasionally more serious moments. Like the man who Connolly brought back from a particularly dark place, or the fellow Parkinson’s sufferer with heartbreaking words of consolation.

McNair delivers his brief monologues stand-up style with brilliant comic timing, wringing them for all their comic potential, with quite a lot of agonisingly extended pauses before the punchline drops. Musicians Simon Liddell and Jill O’Sullivan supply some atmospheric, folksy backdrops, and Claire Halleran’s evocative pub-style set offers visual delights including Connolly’s banana boots reimagined as a neon chair.

As McNair says, if you expect loving recreations of Connolly’s routines, you’ll be disappointed, as you also will if you’re hoping for hagiography. In many ways, Connolly himself hardly features. But McNair’s cunning, profound creation offers so much more: it’s a rich and moving portrait of contemporary Scotland, its pride, its passions and its acidic linguistic wit, and a show almost brimming over with love, sadness and joy.

McNair prances nimbly from microphone to microphone, staying touchingly faithful to its narrators’ hesitations, stumbles, mis-remembered gags and dodgy impressions

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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