REVIEW: Dear Billy – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Gary McNair’s Dear Billy is billed as “a love letter to the Big Yin from the people of Scotland.”

A number of “story gatherers” and “researchers” from the National Theatre of Scotland have travelled far and wide to collect stories about national treasure Billy Connolly, to form the basis of McNair’s work. A work that includes stories both hilarious and deeply moving, it celebrates the Big Yin and his meaning to the Scottish public.
After touring Scotland, its final stop is here in Connolly’s home town, Glasgow.

There are few Scots without a tale to tell, a misremembered sketch to reenact or an opinion to give on Connolly, all providing rich source material for Dear Billy.

The work is chronological and takes us from a disturbing childhood of “depravity, abandonment and beatings”, to working in the city’s shipyards in the 60s, through his days as a musician with the Humblebums, to global superstardom. There are tales of unsung philanthropy and utterly tear-jerking moments of personal connection with the comedy legend. It is played out on designer Claire Halleran’s neon-lit, music venue set. Musicians Simon Liddell and Jill O’Sullivan provide excellent musical accompaniment, taking Connolly’s folk roots as their inspiration. The tunes are complimentary, never intrusive, and greatly add to the energy of the piece.

This is an absolute shining light in a pretty depressing current theatre scene. An original work, inventively researched, structured and staged and perfectly pitched to its audience. McNair is a phenomenal writer and performer whose engaging personality is hard to resist, a combination in this work that’s irresistible. The energy level is high, the pacing perfectly suited to the source material. It’s a concise 90 minutes that packs more punch than shows twice its length. The love shines through from start to finish. Dear Billy can’t be recommended highly enough.

Runs until 25 June 2023 | Image: Sally Jubb

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