With a timeline spanning sixty years, it’s remarkable that this one-act show never feels rushed. Granted, the show doesn’t so much skip as kangaroo hop by as much as a decade between scenes, so much so that the inter-scene soundscape tells the audience what year the following scene is in, and/or makes the era quite obvious with news stories and popular hits from the time. Ten women are played by Kim Ismay, including Bill’s mother, who had her reasons for preferring to give birth to a girl, his aunt Dot, a Calvinistic figure who presumably never misses church on Sunday and is sure that when she pops her clogs she is destined for Heaven (as for almost everyone else, well…), and his daughter Sally, who didn’t meet Bill properly until adulthood.
The other characters are mostly Bill’s lovers, which makes journalist Karen a breath of fresh air, even if she is dismissive of Bill: by the time they meet, in 1986, trumpeter Bill has had his best years (career-wise, at least) behind him, and with some justification, Karen wonders why she has been assigned to interview a has-been who doesn’t appear to have anything in particular to promote, such as a new album or a tour. Ismay plays all ten women very convincingly, with various accents and personalities, and it becomes clear Bill Fitzgerald had ways of attracting members of the fairer sex in his youth as well as in his later years.
It’s not all hedonism, as Gloria, Bill’s landlady, reveals. Having been charmed by him, she gives him a discount on the rent, but soon finds herself feeling “useless, foolish, stupid” as Bill indulges in bedroom activity instead with women of his own generation. But for every moment of heartache, there’s another of laughter. Some thirty years later, Lopita, a 29-year-old Italian, is Bill’s lover: he can’t get it up, so to speak, but she doesn’t care. He’s not quite a sugar daddy, but she stays for the monetary benefit and comfortable lifestyle. It’s a laugh-out-loud few moments.
Each character has their own look, and a conveniently positioned clothes rack stage left has everything required. Ismay displays much versatility – the youngest character, Joyce (a lover by which Bill has his daughter Sally), is sixteen, and Dot, in her last scene, is seventy-nine. Her speaking and singing voices are a delight to listen to – much as the one-act show is a reviewer’s delight, I wouldn’t have minded a second act. Paul Crew at the piano does a splendid job, and the production as a whole has plenty of passion and heart.
Review by Chris Omaweng
From the journalist who can’t help but be affected by his charm, to the addict lover who blames him for everything, all the women in Bill’s life show us a different aspect of this talented, complicated man as the score takes us on a musical tour of the song styles of Bill’s long life.
And all the while Aunty Dot looks on. She raised him when his mother couldn’t and loved him with the same ferocity as she despairs about his behaviour. Sternly moral, outspoken, and hilarious, she has much to say About Bill.
About Bill Productions and Take Note Theatre present
Music and Lyrics by Matthew Strachan
Book by Bernie Gaughan
30 August – 9 September 2023
About Bill plays at the Theatre at the Tabard
Wednesday 30 August to Saturday 9 September 2023.
Tuesday – Friday 7:30 pm, Saturday 6pm, Sunday 3pm and 6pm
Book online at https://tabard.org.uk/whats-on/about-bill/ or 020 8995 6035
In person bookings at the theatre half an hour before each performance
Theatre at the Tabard
2 Bath Road, London, W4 1LW