After a month of playing away at Merseyside schools and community centres, Billy Wonderful returned to its home ground at the Everyman in a blaze of glory along with a security alert on the opening night.
Two football hooligans were seen traversing the foyer, singing chants and disturbing theatre-goers one of whom, concerned, alerted staff.
This was of course, part of the pre-play designed by Nick Leather in his quest to recreate the atmosphere of a derby day in Liverpool.
He has achieved his task well with meticulous attention to detail upon entering the theatre, you could be forgiven for expecting a match instead of a play. The circle has become the terraces of a stadium, adorned with red and blue banners above a concrete floor, which is crudely marked out with a tiny chalk pitch.
Directed by Serdar Bilis, the play charts the life of Billy, a boy wonder who, determined to achieve his father’s failed dream of playing professionally, is signed for Everton on a 6000 a week contract.
Clever use of stadium floodlighting shifts the action between pitch and real life and time fluxes are cleverly managed with intermittent commentary and a scoreboard charting Billy’s age. Though Leather himself would be hesitant to use the term physical theatre, he has given great attention to physicality, charting Billy’s triumphs and sufferings through the goals and tackles of a game.
It is, as you might expect, a 90 minute piece, yet ambitiously it takes on 22 years and over 50 characters and all portrayed by just five male actors. Impressively, footballers, women and children are played equally convincingly and each with their own distinct persona. David Lyons in particular displays remarkable dexterity in managing the fluctuations of Billy’s age, and Shaun Mason is hilariously funny as his one-time girlfriend.
Neil Caple is especially affecting as Billy’s bereaved father – an ex-player who embodies a sense of nostalgia for the beautiful game. He remembers a sport that is all about solidarity, and sorely laments what it has become namely Wags, signing-on fees, ProZone (and) Bosmans.
Like the best of dramatic heros, Billy comes with his flaws, and like so many, his hamartia lies in the inflated sense of self importance that success and its trappings have bestowed on him. But football and fortune both shows themselves to be fickle friends when he suffers a nasty knee injury and his bubble eventually bursts or rather, his childhood football does: an apt (if a little obvious) metaphor for Billy’s punctured dreams.
Leather is fond of using objects in his drama in this way, and finds an appropriate reconciliation for father and son in a game of Subbuteo as well as a vessel for the moral of his story, as Billy finally learns to pass.