First televised by the BBC as part of the infamous Play for Today series, the Billy plays launched the career of Sir Kenneth Branagh, a then young Belfast-born actor, and made a huge impact across the island of Ireland and the UK.
Veteran Belfast actor Jimmy Ellis was the star attraction off-stage at the World Premiere of Love, Billy. You might recall that Jimmy played the father, Norman Martin in the 1980s’ BBC TV series – a part which has been revived 25 years on by Strabane actor, George Shane.
Jimmy was reunited with the only original cast member, Tracey Lynch, who plays Ann Martin, a role she last played as a young 10-year-old.
Star of stage and screen, Joe McGann has stepped into the shoes of Sir Kenneth Branagh to lead the cast as the estranged, angry son, Billy Martin, who returns to Belfast after 25 years, having left mysteriously without telling anyone. He comes back to a city that he hardly recognises and family grudges to resolve.
Everything started off with some hilarious Belfast banter and it felt like a great start, but as the story unfolded, there was a lot of family history and politics to work through, maybe a bit too much of it.
Love Billy has some cracker comedy moments, most notably by the (as always) hilarious Ciaran Nolan as Gurney Ernie and also Billy’s sister Ann. Oh and not forgetting dad played by George Shane, just hilarious. Every time they came on stage, the whole mood in the Lyric just lifted!
I think expectations were high for this one, but the absence of a rousing standing ovation at the end of this world premiere should be noted.
The follow up play to what has become a legendary TV moment was always going to be hard to write and overall it’s a funny yet touching story about a family dealing with their own lives and issues, with maybe a wee bit too much local politics thrown in.
Love, Billy runs on the Danske Bank Stage from 1 to 25 May. Tickets from £10 – £24.50. To book contact the Lyric box office on 028 9038 1081 or online at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk