Backstairs Billy

"Perfects the blend of eccentric hilarity sprinkled with heartfelt moments"

Backstairs Billy is an hilarious new show in the heart of London that will make you roar with laughter and warm your heart in the process. This brilliantly witty play written by Marcelo Dos Santos was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish and a sure crowd-pleaser.

Currently playing at The Duke of York Theatre, this poignant piece tells the true story of the beautiful friendship between The Queen Mother and her main footman, William ‘Billy’ Tallon who served by her side for close to 50 years.

The star studded cast have been directed by the acclaimed Michael Grandage and each member delivered a sterling performance with their captivating personalities.

Even with little prior knowledge about the Royal Family, it’s easy to become attached to the characters as they engage you with a script that serves a laugh on every line. I was so impressed by the hilarious and unexpected scenes of this show and thought it almost held an essence of a ‘Carry On’ film.

The storyline centres around The Queen Mother and her loyal Page of the Backstairs. We watch as Billy is caught romancing with an escort ‘Ian’ and audaciously tries to pass him off as a dinner guest. We also meet a variety of eccentric characters who come to visit The Queen Mother and the hysterical interactions that unfurl. 

The first character that we are introduced to is of course, the title role of the show, Billy who is played by actor Luke Evans. The actor - known for his role of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast amongst other things - was hilarious and immediately lovable. His strikingly suave take on the footman brought endless fun and joy and his vibrancy was contagious. 

I thought Evans provided the perfect, charismatic charm to contrast the chaotic escapades and his smug, playful essence added bundles of personality and youth. I particularly enjoyed his role’s impression of King Charles.

The entire play is set inside Clarence House where we find an extremely pink and quite extravagant drawing room. The elaborate artwork, floral arrangements and dated decor embellish the stage, adding to the hilarity of the story. Even though the scenery doesn’t change, we shift back and forward in time to meet younger versions of the Queen Consort and a newly employed, 15 year old Billy. We witness their very first interaction and view the start of a delightful and unusual friendship blossom.

I completely fell in love with young Billy thanks to Ilan Galkoff‘s heartwarming performance. The young lad from Coventry who dedicated nearly his whole life to the sweet elderly lady we know and love, reminded the audience of the strong woman behind the frock - a lady who helped the country persevere despite the trials of the war. 

The part of The Queen Mother was played by Penelope Wilton who brought a very radiant, spirited energy to the stage and seemed to have a great likeness to the real deal. She gave a warm, captivating portrayal throughout the piece which, combined with her witty sense of humour, meant she stole many hearts in the audience. Wilton beautifully displays The Queen Mother’s love of human connection, evoking sympathy for the moving moments of loneliness.

All the cast were highly amusing but I specifically loved watching the friendship grow between the two leads. It was reminiscent of viewing a favourite sitcom with characters that you have loved for ages.

A real highlight for the me was the amusing addition of the most handsome cast members, two corgis, running across the stage.

Overall I feel that the whole cast, under the direction of Grandage, excellently captured the full range of emotions in the writing. The strong message to show the world that the sweet old lady we remember The Queen Mother to be only just touched the surface of the humorous, ‘national symbol of resilience’ she was formally recognised as.

Due to the impressive standard all round, I would give this patriotic play 5 stars as it was a truly splendid show. It is very apparent that the writer Dos Santos holds The Queen Mother very dear and wants to keep her electric spirit alive.

This show was reviewed on the 8th November 2023.  Backstairs Billy runs at The Duke of York's Theatre until the 27th January 2024.  Tickets available here: Backstairs Billy (thedukeofyorks.com)

Review written by Jasmine Alice

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

 

 

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