There are tall tales, small crumbs and stories that sputter to a halt as soon as they start. The rolling cast is of ‘hunners’, all interviewed by storyteller and theatre maker Gary McNair and patchworked together in a typically eccentric fashion. Because how do you make sense of Billy Connolly, a man stitched into the fabric of Scotland itself, a man who means so much to so many, regardless of age or background? How can you capture his essence, his innate Billy-ness, in an hour and a half?
Perched on Claire Halleran’s mischievous, inventive set, comprised of the iconic welly boot, banana boot and round specs, McNair emulates not only the cadences, but the roars of laughter, howls of outrage, and misremembered lines that make up this show. There are Glasgow wideos, winos, believers, agnostics and a wee nun, all of whom owe so much to The Big Yin. Director Joe Douglas keeps it all rolling at a fair clip, with elan.
What is most striking though,as with the best of McNair’s work, is the focus on his subject’s humanity. Connolly made so many things possible – he was an authentic, working-class voice from the shipyards, flipping the bird to the old Etonian guard who previously dominated the comedy landscape. Here was a man too, who wasn’t afraid to tackle societal taboos around sex and religion, and speak out against his terrible traumas and lived experience, which was not something big hirsute, boozy guys fae Glesga did.
Ably performing beautiful folk songs alongside McNair are indie musicians Jill O’Sullivan and Simon Liddell, who are rollicking or poignant soundtrack providers as the stories unfold, and BSL interpreter Karen Forbes also gets involved in some cheeky segments. ‘’Don’t be beige’’, runs McNair’s interior monologue as he recalls his own encounter with the man himself. Nae danger, a wee bit blue sometimes, but it’s mostly a cheeky neon pink, like Connolly’s backdrop on An Audience With. And of course, like those house parties he gatecrashed back in the day, it all ends in a wee singalong. Dear Billy is genuinely heartfelt, hilarious and moving theatre, when we most need it.
National Theatre of Scotland’s Scottish tour of Dear Billy ran from 16th May till 24th June