Singin’ I’m No A Billy, He’s A Tim


JOYCE MCMILLAN on SINGIN’ I’M NO A BILLY, HE’S A TIM  (NLP Theatre at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh), for The Scotsman 16.5.09

4 stars ****

THERE’S SOMETHING STRANGE going on here.   Twice in a week, I find myself watching shows produced by shoestring touring companies well outside the mainstream of Scottish arts funding.  And twice I find myself confronted by theatre that seems far more vividly connected to the real life of Scotland than most of the work I review; the NTS should be observing, and taking note.  The first show was Mike Gibb’s flawed but passionate Lest We Forget, about the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988; and the second is Des Dillon’s populist but immensely powerful examination of sectarianism, playing in Edinburgh this weekend.

The scene is a Glasgow police cell, where Celtic supporter Tim and Rangers supporter Billy find themselves literally thrown together – under the benign care of troubled police officer Harry – after a series of pre-match arrests. The arc of the story is simple, and the play wears its anti-sectarian heart unashamedly on its sleeve.  It sometimes flirts with unthinking nationalism as an antidote to bigotry, as well as with a more robust politics of humanity and class; and it piles on the schmaltz, in the story of Harry’s sick grandson.

But the sheer vitality of the theatrical writing – the seamless combination of verbal wit and raw kinetic energy, and the pure dynamic strength of the play’s structure – makes Stephen Cafferty’s production, with two outstanding performances from Colin Little and Scott Kyle, feel like one of the shortest and most gripping two-hour shows in current Scottish theatre.  And this show not only raises issues our society urgently needs to confront, but also attracts an audience that would never otherwise darken a theatre door; unless we count those big arenas at Parkhead and Ibrox, where such an important part of the national drama is still  played out, week after week.


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