Theatre Review - Billy The Girl

A young woman hovers on a doorstep. Behind her is a dilapidated caravan. “Do I look different?” she asks an older woman protectively guarding the doorway.

This is Billy (Danusia Samal), fresh out of prison, who has returned home to her mum Ingrid (Christine Entwisle) and younger sister Amber (Naomi Ackie). She certainly feels different, after a year inside, and is planning on making a new start. Unfortunately Ingrid doesn’t want to let her back inside the house. Grudgingly she tells Billy she can sleep in the caravan. What has Billy done and why is her mother being so harsh?

Over the course of 75 minutes, Katie Hims gradually reveals a bitter-sweet tale of broken dreams and familial betrayal. Ingrid and Billy own different memories and disagree about the truth while Amber tries not to take sides by pretending she can’t remember. Ingrid claims that Billy burned the house down. Billy argues that it was an accident. Ingrid can’t forgive Billy for stabbing her late partner, Frank, but Billy hints at something darker. According to Ingrid, Billy was sent into care for three months. Billy says it was a year. Their mutual distrust seems irredeemable, their love dogged by these distorted memories.

Clean Break works with women in prison and offers creative opportunities for offenders and women at risk. For BILLY THE GIRL, Hims spent time working with and listening to the stories of the female inmates of Holloway and Askham Grange prisons. It’s certainly paid off and she has crafted a poignant portrait of a young woman’s attempt to reconnect with her family and forge a new life for herself.

It is not all doom and gloom and Hims expertly laces her serious subject matter with humour, exemplified by an emotional central scene in which Billy interrogates her mother while dressed in a bear costume. Although Hims’ demonstrates how easy it is to fall back into familiar destructive patterns, she also suggests that one can learn from past mistakes and hope for a better future.

The three performances are perfectly pitched. Joanna Scotcher’s detailed set, complete with caravan, brings home the grim reality of Billy’s homelife and Lucy Morrison directs with panache.

Running at Soho Theatre until Sun 24 Nov, 7.15pm

Originally published by Theatreworld