Billy Through the Window

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Genevieve Cox

at 12:16 on 14th Aug 2015

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Billy Through the Window allowed for an incredible glance through the window and into the tragic desperation of mental illness’s trap as two best friends seek their bird’s escape from Hamilton Care Home and fly “through the window” into society.

The exploration of mental illness, social segregation and misunderstanding is approached with care and precision. There is no sense of mockery or excessive hyperbolic treatment of illness in this poignant portrayal of two boys as their innocence of childhood is maintained throughout in sneaky ‘indulgences’ in ‘naughty’ treats. From chocolate and Ribena the boys progress into the adult realms of kissing, drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, gambling and hang-overs.

Hector Dyer and Joseph O’Toole performed brilliantly in this two-man show, conveying mental illness and internal turmoil. Fantastic facial expressions, physical theatre, use of speech and actions paired effectively with Tabitha Mortiboy’s well-written script. The clever use of grammar, youthful vocabulary, and simple sentence structures established in-depth characterisation that was maintained throughout. This was well-balanced with use of music and relevant lyrics to heighten the dramatic tension and emotional atmosphere as it moved from pity to urgency to frenzy to tragedy. The audience was kept on edge throughout the performance and I have to admit that it gave me the shivers in the final scene!

The set is simple yet effective and well-designed. Not only did it serve as a visual aid but also provided sensory detail as the sickly scent of cornflakes exacerbated the unpleasant sense of being trapped and suffocated.

The “no more medicine and nobody needs to know” rule forms the basis of the boys’ secret hideout yet these two simple rules soon prove to be the basis of ingrained, personal rigidity of thought and behaviour: OCD arrangement of cutlery, precise measuring of drink intake, lists, black-and-white perspectives, accuracy of paper airplanes – dominate the play, weaving further mental traps.

All these rules, restrictions and brought against all the ideals of freedom, merge together to produce a moving and emotional performance of traps and attempts at breaking free from them. It was truly not only the tale of Billy’s escape “through the window” constructed by mental-illness and into society, but also the audience’s glimpse “through the window” into the haunting reality of the dark side of mental illness, past the facade cast by contemporary stereotypes and into the real soul of the individual’s struggle, inner turmoil, frenzy and fear.

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Ed Grimble

at 12:20 on 14th Aug 2015

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Joe O’Toole and Hector Dyer both give commanding and mature performances in their roles as Joe and Billy in this intense and harrowing exploration of strained friendships, and how we perceive and cope with our place in the world. The two have escaped from the care home where they stay, in order to go on a secret holiday where they can be away from authority, living instead under Joe’s two simple maxims: no more medicine, and nobody needs to know.

Both boys have severe Asperger syndrome, something that becomes apparent in their cumbersome and skittish speech, as well as their obsession with routine and similarity. Indeed, the play’s most explosive scene comes as Billy descends into fits of rage at the realisation that Joe has purchased own-brand cornflakes in lieu of his usual. In the face of being robbed of the comfort and security of routine, chaos ensues- and breakfast ruined. This additional complexity of the two characters of course brings with it further difficulties for the actors, as the creditability of their performance is highly dependent upon their ability to capture the nuances and mannerisms of the two mentally ill adolescents. Dyer and O’Toole succeed here remarkably well.

On a set so sparsely decorated to reflect the boys’ rough and ready woodland hideout, and the absence of a supporting cast, the two leads’ performance possessed an impressive stamina and resilience. Physically and emotionally they are demanding roles to play, and the pair capture the dysfunctional, but unwaveringly close, relationship between Joe and Billy with zeal and energy.

Billy Through the Window is a play that confronts themes of control and fear in the face of the scale of the world around us. Both boys seek to exercise a degree of command in their lives that is at once unsettling and heartwarming. Joe, too, given his clearly troubled life in and out of care homes without the support of a family unit, feeds from the similarity that he enjoys with Billy. Indeed, both appear happiest in a charmingly choreographed opening scene where the two remove their bags and coats in synchronism. The play darkens slowly as Joe begins to see Billy as his only means of exerting authority in his life.

This is a first rate show, and directors Maureen Lennon and Tabitha Mortiboy should be congratulated. It is well-worth braving a sweltering labyrinth of the Underbelly to watch this dramatic descent into the minds of two troubled and endearing friends.

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