Billy Redden

'Billy Redden' presented by Independent Youth Theatre at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.

'Billy Redden' presented by Independent Youth Theatre at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.

Two minutes into this performance, as young Billy Redden (Kelly) talks to himself on stage, a man suddenly emerges from the toilet adjacent to the core action, strides across the space, and leaves through the door we just entered. For a few awkward moments, there’s still a chance that this is part of the play, but when neither man nor boy interact, and the convulsive flush has settled, we realise that the strange loo-user was just that. Not so strange, unfortunately, that no less than four other people are allowed to walk in and out of the theatre during various stages of the performance to do exactly the same thing.

Billy ReddenThis is just one of the recurring problems that makes Independent Youth Theatre’s production almost impossible to engage with. Before the performance begins, a volunteer announces that some noise from the show next door – Drags Aloud – will filter through. What she doesn’t mention is that the Australian company’s fully amplified extravaganza will BOOM through pop classics and show tunes for the next hour, rendering the cast of Billy Redden virtually inaudible and impossible to fully appreciate.

What the group manages to communicate is that sometime in the 1970s, young Billy is visited by future selves who forewarn what’s to come: alcoholism, abject loneliness, a late drag career, and a brief affair with a man who has Huntington’s disease are just a few of the milestones that the poor kid has to look forward to. While this plot manages to make for a few tender moments along the way, it is essentially the stuff of melodrama, and the group play it closer to realism.

Billy ReddenEstablished about fifteen minutes in, the central focus of the action involves the slow death of the eldest Billy (Burke) due to a chest injury. A door, removed from its frame on stage, is used as a stretcher for the hour it takes him to expire. Even though the performance tries to play this as utterly serious, the spectacle next door seems to have got its hands on Now That’s What’s I Call Music Not to Die To, and it pumps through a set of the most inapproriate tracks imaginable: 'Freedom', 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight', 'Cabaret', 'Follow the Yellow Brick Road', 'Rock the Boat' and something by Cher are just a few of the tunes that poor Billy, and the audience, are forced to reckon with during these supposedly sombre moments.

While we can forgive the festival a certain lack of finesse due to budgetary constraints, the presentation of this show was inexcusable. The adapted commercial space in Smithfield is simply not suited to two separate productions, and certainly not this coupling. The result is an offence to a paying audience and an exercise in humilation for the cast and crew who had to work through continuous disturbance. While the performance itself isn’t perfect – certainly in so far as it can be appraised as a discrete entity – its basic production needs simply aren’t catered for. Sadly, unless the problems with noise and the use of space are rectified, the show will remain unwatchable.

Fintan Walsh is a post-doctoral researcher at the School of Drama, Trinity College Dublin. He is ITM’s staff writer.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Billy Redden by Alan Flanagan

10 - 15 May, 2010

Produced by Independent Youth Theatre
In The Complex Two, Smithfield Square

Written and directed by Alan Flanagan

Set Design: Alex Graham

With: Blayne Kelly, Connor Hillman, Killian Sheridan, Geoff O'Keeffe and Liam Burke

Produced by Independent Youth Theatre for the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival: