In my continued attempts to turn Parallelevision into a delightful chocolate box of various scripts that I’ve worked on over the years, I figured it was time to upload my most successful play to date.
Billy Redden tells the tale of the eponymous 13-year-old, sitting in his room in 1971 and waiting for not very much to continue happening to him. Until he’s visited, all at once, by himself. It’s Billy at 26, at 39, at 52 – a new Billy, from every thirteen years down the line to 78. While the show is shot through with hints of A Christmas Carol or even Back To The Future, it’s really brought to life by my undying love for truly great science-fiction – where character takes centre stage, and all plot mechanics therein merely help back it up. In this case, Billy meeting himself isn’t about wacky high jinks (though there’s a bit of that) but rather the old chestnut “What would I tell myself?”.
At various points in his life Billy will be up, down, left, right, a doctor, a drunk, and a drag queen. And each one has their own piece of advice on what this 13-year-old kid should or shouldn’t do. Each also has their own opinion on what the other Billys should have done, and while I had more fun than is reasonable working on the mechanics of time travel and the joys of multiple casting, at its heart this is a solemn story about identity – you’re not who you were yesterday, and you’re not who you’ll be tomorrow. And if those two people met they wouldn’t be the jovial companions you might think.
The show premiered at last year’s International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, and picked up awards for Best Writer and Best Actor for a powerful performance from Geoff O Keeffe (as a drag queen no less). It remains my best experience to date of the entire theatrical process, from getting the initial vague idea through a six-month writing process, through casting and directing the show. It wasn’t an easy show to “get”, as its tone wavers steadily throughout, and the cast did a lot of heavy lifting to hit the nail on the head. Geoff, in particular, had the unenviable task of learning how to act like a drag queen, and then learning how that drag queen would act when she’s not acting like a drag queen. Miss Kitty remains one of my favourite characters, just getting to see that glamorously presented facade ripped down to the basics of sadness and regret.
As a writer, it was also an informative process. While the show is grounded in character, it was also a technical
nightmare education to try and keep the various timelines in check. Every time 13-year-old Billy learned something, I had to course-correct that each subsequent Billy must know the exact same thing. Finding creative ways to get various Billys out of the room throughout would have been a little harder were it not for the presence – or lack thereof – of Billy’s best friend Lucy.
I never intended to create a character that never appears (I probably would have fallen into it being an awkward gimmick if I had) but it just became a natural direction over the writing process. Of course there needed to be another person in Billy’s life, some constant they could all have opinions on. Of course something else would be happening outside his room to tear the various Billys in two. A lot of the best bits of the writing process are the “of course” moments – when two previously disparate plot points fall together naturally or a character suddenly takes on a new light – and Billy Redden was full of those. If it hadn’t been I don’t think I could have taken the time to write it between everything else that was going on in my life at the time.
Anyway, that’s enough babbling on. Feel free to have a read, and I would love to hear any feedback you might have. And if you’re interested in putting up a performance of this or anything else I put on here, as per usual just drop me an email. I live to give.