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Review: Dear Billy--A Love Letter to the Big Yin ****

Michael Cox reviews the 'terrific' celebration of Billy Connolly.

Man stands on stage and tells stories from the public about Billy Connolly for 90 minutes. The end.

An effective story is never about the mere facts but is in the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of a tale—something Gary McNair has always excelled at within his shows over the years. Dear Billy: A Love Letter to the Big Yin might be the least personal story he’s toured with so far, but it just might be his best.

The above facts are indeed true: McNair interviewed an eclectic group of people about Connolly—the man, the artist and the symbolic institution—and recounts their stories in character. The opinions are varied, from the big fans to the critics—all told with terrific characterisation, energy and timing.

The production itself is sharply presented. Director Joe Douglas has created a production that is quickly paced and engaging. The design appears simple with its platforms, neon lights and collection of microphones, but it’s well utilised. Musicians Simon Liddell and Jill O’Sullivan’s live music adds a feeling of celebration throughout, underscoring the whole production.

McNair himself has always been a terrific stage presence—funny, humane and empathetic; he treats each person’s account with the same generous nature. Yet, while listening to each story about the affect ‘the Big Yin’ has had, another story stealthily emerges—a state of the union of Scotland. With each story, a larger impression is given—not just of Connolly’s undeniable affect but in how Scotland itself has changed over the decades. Tales of hardship and desperation are counterbalanced with how ‘the Big Yin’ is viewed, and if one’s view of Connolly is either changed or strengthened after the production, one actually comes away with a greater feeling about the brilliant Scottish culture he emerged from and continues to celebrate.

Dear Billy: A Love Letter to the Big Yin was reviewed at the Traverse Theatre where it performs until May 20th. It continues to tour until June 24, 2023. For further details visit the National Theatre of Scotland website.

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