DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Billy Shakes – Wonderboy! – Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

Writer/Director: Elvi Piper

Designer: Antony Jones

Musical Director: Rosie Fox

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

This year the Shakespeare’s Rose season in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower is mounting a commendably full-on Shakespearean assault on the people of York. Four plays rotate on a basis of two performances a day, during term-time some of the day-time performances were aimed specifically at schools, and now the Yorkshire company Wrongsemble is presenting Billy Shakes – Wonderboy! for 4-year-olds upwards on four mornings a week.

It’s an engaging little show, running just less than an hour, and performed mainly on Wrongsemble’s own small stage, crammed with props and musical instruments. The idea is that Billy Shakes is a bored kid, unable to make up his mind to do anything: the repeated, “To go or not to go”, “To eat or not to eat”, etc., become irritating before, inexplicably, they start being funny again!

Two things have an effect on him. His teacher divines that he has ability and insists he starts to write. The results are rubbish until he goes to see a troupe of travelling players who inspire him despite the fact that they are ranting through a load of old tosh – Pyramus and Thisbe, would you believe? Soon, encouraged by the other two members of the company, Billy transforms the company and the rest is history – except it’s not really history as Wrongsemble gleefully stress the historical inaccuracy of it all!

Harri Pitches is the eager, but confused and easily bored, Billy Shakes and turns in a roaring grotesque of a Barty Butter, the finest actor in the history of theatre – or, more accurately, the ripest of hams. Victoria Brazier starts the whole thing off with a diffidently informal introduction in which she dances and plays flute until Harri shows up. She switches accents merrily while Alyce Liburd is her amusingly expressive colleague. Together they make a talented and lively trio, involving the little ones in the audience in the action as much as they can.

The target audience of four-year-olds may be a little optimistic, however. Elvi Piper’s script is very clever – too sophisticated for the tots, maybe? From the beginning, many of the gags come from Billy’s habit of speaking in phrases from the plays. Later this develops as scenes and plots whiz into his head and eventually, Pyramus and Thisbe is wittily transformed into Romeo and Juliet.

No matter: the cast are likable, the songs are cute and the children certainly get the hang of why Barty Butter is a thoroughly obnoxious character, energetically pelting him with “rotten fruit” handed out by the cast.

Runs until 24 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

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