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Backstairs Billy juggles comedy with a critique on power and privilege | Theatre | Entertainment


He is a corgi in Marcelo Dos Santos’ delightful drama about the relationship between the Queen Mother (Penelope Wilton) and her pageboy Billy (Luke Evans). He served her from the age of 15 until her death.

The dogs hurtle across the stage at the opening and return in the second half. One sits yawning on Wilton’s lap during a long monologue before delivering a small package to the carpet. Everyone is a critic. It is precisely at this point that Dos Santos’s play shifts from a whimsical comedy to something more terrifying.

Billy has privileges beyond most of the Clarence House staff and he abuses them from time to time, safe in the belief that Ma’am will turn a blind eye to his transgressions. It’s one thing to add teetotal visitors’ lime juice to vodka, quite another to invite a gay artist (Eloka Ivo) back to sex.

Director Michael Grandage maintains a delicate balance between the socially vacuum-packed royalty and those who serve them, and Wilton and Evans’ easy chemistry is clearly unsettling.

HM’s private secretary’s (Ian Drysdale) disagreement over Billy’s indiscretions and the resulting humiliation on the page reveal the play’s offensive purpose in a scene that should be chilling in its portrayal of power and privilege. Alas, it comes too late and leaves a sour taste even if we are lost for much of its length.

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