Friday 10 February 2012

About Bill - Review


Writer: Bernie Gaughan
Music & lyrics: Matthew Strachan
Director: Charlotte Westenra

November 22 2011

“About Bill” could easily be titled “About Kim”. This stunning one-woman musical, written about a fictional, womanising musician, Bill Fitzgerald stars Kim Ismay, (taking a week out of playing Tanya in Mamma Mia) portraying Bill’s life through the recollections and confessions of the women whose lives he touched.

In the intimacy of the Landor Theatre, with simply a piano and bass in support, Miss Ismay takes us on a journey starting in 1930’s Blackpool. As Stella, Bill’s pregnant showgirl mother, she hopes for the future of her child casually conceived with the ‘second trumpet’ of her touring band. In “Be a Girl”, Stella prays that her baby will not be a boy. Her womanly prescience sensing that should the child be a boy he will be destined by gender to become a rat, irrespective of upbringing.

The boy is born, and we see Kim transform into Bill’s Aunty Dot, one of only two women who make repeat appearances in the show. Dot has taken Bill in from birth, raising him in a stable household, whilst Stella tours. God-fearing in hat, coat and court shoes, she strives to offer Bill love and warmth. Hers is the only character not to be given a song within the show, underlining her puritanical views.

Music however is in young Bill’s DNA. We next meet Joyce a swooning 16yo, besotted with this (now) 19yo rascallish trumpet player, and soon to be the mother of their unplanned daughter.

Ismay manipulates our heart strings cleverly. Gloria is Bill’s landlady, well past her prime, who he seduces and flatters into charging him a lower rent. Her subsequent misery as her ongoing desires for Bill are snubbed whilst he uncaringly brings younger lovers to her house, is painful to watch. From tears to laughter, Ismay’s talent shines. Later in the show, as Lopita, a Latin motel chambermaid enthusing to her mother about her new but impotent husband Bill, the comedy is brilliant.

These have been only some of the ten women that Kim creates in the show. Strachan and Gaughan have written the show specifically around Ismay’s talents, and under Westenra’s skilled direction, the evening is a tour-de-force of the actress’s versatility, range of character, strength of voice and downright brilliance. This show deserves to return to a stage soon. Until then, whilst Kim shines as Tanya, the ultimate ‘cougar’, “About Bill”, also shows her for the Dynamo she truly is.

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