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Michael Grandage directs Backstairs Billy at Duke of York’s Theatre

MGC today announces the world première of Marcelo Dos Santos’ new play Backstairs Billy which looks at a pivotal moment in the 50-year relationship between the Queen Mother and her loyal servant William “Billy” Tallon. Michael Grandage directs Penelope Wilton as the Queen Mother and Luke Evans as Billy, with further casting to be announced shortly. The production opens at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 7 November, with previews from 27 October, and runs until 27 January.

Luke Evans - credit Tim Palen
Luke Evans – credit Tim Palen.

In the company’s continued commitment to providing access for all in the West End, there will be £10 tickets available at every performance across the run. For further information, and to register for the initiative. Since MGC’s creation in 2011 the company has led the way in defining a cheaper seat policy across the West End, prioritising accessibility, and to enable as wide and diverse audience as possible to experience West End Theatre.

Michael Grandage said today “It is always a great moment to celebrate the birth of a new comedy in the West End and particularly from an important new voice such as Marcelo Dos Santos. I am thrilled to be working again with Penelope Wilton and Luke Evans alongside a cast of twelve other actors as we bring an exciting new play to the stage this autumn and over the Christmas period ahead.

The production reunites Grandage with Wilton – they previously collaborated on productions of The Chalk Garden, John Gabriel Borkman and Hamlet; and with Evans who performed at the Donmar twice under Grandage’s Artistic directorship, in Small Change and Piaf. Also, Marcelo Dos Santos was an MGCfutures Bursary recipient from 2019 – a charity established by Grandage to support theatre makers across all aspects of the industry. Following their introduction via the bursary programme, MGC commissioned Dos Santos to write Backstairs Billy.

MGC and Sand & Snow Entertainment present

Penelope WiltonDirector: Michael Grandage; Set Designer: Christopher Oram; Costume Designers: Christopher Oram and Tom Rand; Lighting Designer: Ryan Day; Music and Sound designer: Adam Cork; Wigs, Hair & Makeup Designer: Carole Hancock; Casting Director: Jacob Sparrow; Associate Director: Sophie Drake; Costume Supervisor: Mary Charlton.

Set in 1979, when strikes are bringing the country to its knees and Britain is about to seismically change under Margaret Thatcher, it is business as usual for the Queen Mother and her loyal servant Billy inside Clarence House. Receptions are in full swing and the champagne is flowing as the two worlds start to collide with dizzying consequences.

Marcelo Dos Santos is an award-winning Latinx British-Brazilian-Australian writer. His play Feeling Afraid as If Something Terrible is Going to Happen (Francesca Moody Productions) won a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2022, and transfers to the Bush Theatre with Samuel Barnett in November. Other work includes Lionboy (Complicité, UK & New York & International tour), Subverts (Royal Court Theatre – as part of Living Newspaper), Trigger Warning (co-creator, Camden People’s Theatre – recipient of the Jerwood Home Run Award Commission), The End of History (High Hearted Theatre & Soho Theatre at St Giles in the Fields Church), New Labour (RADA), Cheer Up is Only the Beginning (co-writer, Liverpool Playhouse), Lovers Walk (co-writer Southwark Playhouse).

Penelope Wilton plays the Queen Mother. For theatre, her work includes Taken at Midnight – Olivier Award for Best Actress (Chichester Festival Theatre and Theatre Royal Haymarket), A Delicate Balance, Heartbreak House (Almeida Theatre), Hamlet (Donmar West End), The Family Reunion, The Chalk Garden (Evening Standard Award for Best Actress), John Gabriel Borkman, The Little Foxes, The Collection, The Lover, A Kind of Alaska (Donmar Warehouse) Women Beware Women (RSC), The House of Bernada Alba, Tess, The Secret Rapture, Betrayal (National Theatre), The Seagull (Barbican) and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Young Vic). For television, her work includes Downtown Abbey (as series regular Isobel Crawley), as widower Anne in Ricky Gervais’ award-winning After Life, Brief Encounters, South Riding, Margot, Doctor Who, The Passion, Half Broken Things, Five Days, Celebration, Falling, Lucky Jim, Bob and Rose, Victoria and Albert, The Whistle-Blower, Wives and Daughters, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Talking Heads, The Borrowers and Ever Decreasing Circles; and for film, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Zoo, The BFG, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2, Belle, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The History Boys, Pride and Prejudice, Match Point, Shaun of the Dead, Iris, Calendar Girls, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Carrington, The Secret Rapture, Blame it on the Bellboy, Cry Freedom, Clockwise, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and the Downton Abbey films.

Luke Evans plays Billy. He returns to the stage for first time in over fifteen years. He previously appeared at the Donmar Warehouse in Piaf and Small Change, under Grandage’s tenure as Artistic Director. For television, his work includes Echo 3, Nine Perfect Strangers, Pembrokeshire Murders, The Angel of Darkness, The Grand Tour, The Alienist, and The Great Train Robbery; and for film, Good Grief, Our Son, Pinocchio, Crisis, Murder Mystery, Angel of Mine, Midway, Anna, MA, State Like Sleep, 10 X 10, The Fate of the Furious, Beauty and the Beast, Professor Marston and The Wonder Woman, The Girl on the Train, Message from the King, Hugh Rise, Fast & Furious 7, Dracula Untold, The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug, Fast & Furious 6, The Hobbit – There and Back Again, The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, No One Lives, The Raven and The Three Musketeers.

Michael Grandage is Artistic Director of the Michael Grandage Company (MGC) where for theatre he has directed Emma Corrin in Orlando (Garrick Theatre), Dawn French in Dawn French is a Huge Tw*t (UK tour and The Palladium), Ian McDiarmid in The Lemon Table (UK Tour), Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Noël Coward Theatre), Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch in Red (Wyndham’s Theatre), Nicole Kidman in Photograph 51 (Noël Coward Theatre), Dawn French: 30 Million Minutes (national and international tour and West End), Jude Law in Henry V, David Walliams and Sheridan Smith in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice and Simon Russell Beale in Privates on Parade as part of the season at the Noël Coward Theatre. His film work for MGC includes My Policeman (2022) starring Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, Gina McKee, Linus Roache, David Dawson and Rupert Everett, and Genius (2016) starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Linney. His opera work includes Madama Butterfly for Houston Grand Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera, Le Nozzi de Figaro for Glyndebourne and Houston, Don Giovanni for the Met and Billy Budd for San Francisco, Glyndebourne and BAM in New York. He was Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse (2002–2012) and Sheffield Theatres (2000-2005) where his work included Chiwetel Ejiofor in Othello, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon, Derek Jacobi in King Lear, Eddie Redmayne and Alfred Molina in Red (Tony Award for Best Director), Jude Law in Hamlet and Kenneth Branagh in Ivanov. He won three Olivier Awards for his musical productions of Guys and Dolls, Merrily We Roll Along and Grand Hotel. His production of Disney’s Frozen – The Musical is currently running at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. He was President of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama from 2010 to 2022 and is currently President of the Morrab Library. He was appointed CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2011. His book, A Decade At The Donmar, was published by Constable & Robins in 2012. His charity, set up to help young theatre makers, can be found at www.mgcfutures.com.

Book Tickets for Backstairs Billy

Listings Information BACKSTAIRS BILLY
Duke of York’s Theatre
St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4BG

Performances Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm
27 October 2023 – 27 January 2024
Press night on 7 November at 7pm

Related News & Reviews Past & Present

  1. Full Casting Announced for Backstairs Billy – Duke of York’s Theatre
  2. Interview with Emily Barber – Backstairs Billy
  3. Michael Grandage will helm the feature film Jack and Lem
  4. Spotlight on Michael Grandage
  5. Review of Red, directed by Michael Grandage at Wyndham’s Theatre


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