PPP Billy (The Days of Howling)

Mar 23 2016 | By More

★★★★☆    Heart-rending

Traverse Theatre: Tue 22 – Sat 26 Mar 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

With a whisper of snow and the haunting of an idea, the latest instalment of A Play, A Pie and a Pint spins in and out of the Traverse leaving a rare desolation in its wake.

In Billy (The Days of Howling), Quebecois playwright Fabien Cloutier pinpoints, with dark and tragic regard, one of the seemingly inoperable ills which sits at the very heart of the fragmentation of our society.

Anthony Strachan, Rosalind Sydney and Hilary Lyon. Photo: Leslie Black

Anthony Strachan, Rosalind Sydney and Hilary Lyon. Photo: Leslie Black

The play’s discombobulation begins from the off. Three actors appear on their own islands of light on the dark stage. Clearly separate, each with their own chair, they often speak one alongside the other.

Director Rosie Kellagher draws three uniformly excellent performances out of her actors, giving a clear and illuminating account of Nadine Desrochers’ translation of the originally French script.

They easily overcome the vagaries of time and place as the interconnections of the three characters swim into view.

They coalesce around Rosalind Sydney as the mother of four year-old Alice, who she drops off at day-care every morning before going to work on the switchboard of the School Board.

Anthony Strachan is the father of Billy, the child who is at day-care with Alice. Much of what occures during the play centres around Billy’s well-being. Strachan creates a large, doughnut-eating man of solid girth and equally solid opinions.

Nothing is wasted

While these two are concerned – or not – with their own children’s actions, Hilary Lyon provides a distracting commentary that at first seems to be no more than an aside. Her all-consuming concern is the placing of a notice board in her office, as she spends time listening to the radio and bad-mouthing her colleagues.

Anthony Strachan (Billy's Dad). Photo: Leslie Black

Anthony Strachan (Billy’s Dad). Photo: Leslie Black

But it is the writing which makes this fizz, the intricate weaving together of these three disparate stories. Gently unpicking the elements to reveal a greater whole. It might be full of colour and language, but it is sparse too: every line, every observation adds and fills out the play. Nothing is wasted.

And the bleak tragedy of the overarching story is made all the more bleak by this layering, like fine layers of snow falling, one flake upon the next. Each flake an individual little tragedy which occurs to these individuals as the greater tragedy builds up, given ever greater depth and import from their own fates.

These individual tragedies are those of a modern society where everyone else is culpable and no one will take personal responsibility. Where everyone is a victim of the system stifled by bureaucracy. A society quick to blame and quicker to abuse but certain of its own judgement without having knowledge of the whole truth.

It is only to the audience that the rounded knowledge of perspective is revealed. Each of these characters – all tragic in their own way – is seen as culpable of rushing to judge.

There is a dramatic tragedy – one which more than satisfies the requirements of form. It leaves a hollow sound of desolation after the play’s last line.

Yet in their own silence, the audience will surely hear the echo of a tragedy which is very much their own.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 22 – Saturday 26 March 2016
Lunchtimes: 1pm, Evening performance Friday 18, 7pm.
Tickets and details: http://www.traverse.co.uk/


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