Billy Boy

Rosemary Jenkinson
East Side Arts
Gilded Balloon Teviot

John Travers as Billy Boy Credit: East Side Arts

Bursting onto the stage with the energy of a jet plane, John Travers proceeds to give us an hour of insight into what it is like to be a young loyalist in Northern Ireland today.

But writer Rosemary Jenkinson sensibly gives us a little history lesson first to contextualise why the East Belfast boys build the bonfires on the Glorious 12 July, a date which still sends some residents escaping from the city to avoid the inevitable trouble of the Orange marching season.

Billy is a 20-something Protestant lad brought up in the loyalist tradition but he’s a decent sort, not hardcore like some, willing to work, although he’s just lost his job as a youth worker for expressing his views.

He and his mates are tasked with guarding the bonfire—the ‘bony’—through the night of the 11th to ensure nobody tries to break it up or set it alight early. We meet his mum—a typical Belfast housewife concerned over her son's welfare—and his friends Dino and Jamie. We live through the night with them on watch fuelled by beer and drugs to keep them awake and give them courage.

But after an incident with the police, the next morning, Billy decides he must leave the city, and on a whim buys a ticket to Amsterdam where he ends up picking fruit and meeting a girl, Yolanda, who is into eating ‘space cake’ and protesting about the environment.

When the work dries up, he takes her back to his home town where he decides to try again, hoping he can persuade her to stay. She is Catholic and not sure of his lifestyle, but as they get caught up in another bonfire melee, he realises that she is with him in spirit as well as in body and that maybe they can make a go of it in his city.

Travers is a watchable ball of energy who uses every gesture and the whole of the stage to make his point. His strong Belfast accent is sometimes difficult to follow but the story carries him along and we pick up enough to understand his emotional rollercoaster of a journey.

A well written, beautifully acted play that gets to the heart of a sometimes misunderstood community.

Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes