Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Gary McNair’s Dear Billy is a charming and affectionate love letter to the much adored comedian/musician, Billy Connolly. McNair is a self-confessed fan – and, it must be said, that there’s something about his looks and general demeanour that chime with The Big Yin’s own personality. But rest assured, this isn’t some kind of a tribute act.
Instead, McNair has wandered the highways and byways of Scotland, talking to Connolly’s fans – and, over ninety minutes, he recounts the various things they’ve said about the man they (mostly) idolise, assuming their voices and mannerisms to comic effect. If this sounds like an unpromising premise, don’t be fooled. Mostly because of McNair’s consummate skills as a raconteur, I find myself laughing pretty much throughout the proceedings.
He’s joined onstage by musicians Simon Liddell and Jill O’ Sullivan (the latter occasionally given the opportunity to sing some of her own songs in a truly astonishing voice) and it’s fun to note the struggles they have to keep straight faces as McNair lets rip. But this is essentially a showcase for his comic skills, as he strides fearlessly back and forth between four microphones, inhabiting a whole range of personae, from grandmothers to dockers, with testimonies that range from the heartrending to the hilarious.
There may not be an awful lot of substance here, but it’s certainly an entertaining show. McNair references many of Connolly’s most iconic routines, so fans of the Big Yin in particular, will have a field day. But it’s worth saying that you don’t have to be a fan in order to enjoy what’s on offer.
Anyone looking for a much-needed giggle will find what they’re looking for right here.