Bill's 44th
  • By Tom Rolph
  • |
  • 24th Aug 2023
  • |
  • ★★★★

If there’s one 44th birthday party you want to be going to this year, it’s Bill’s. He plates up the crudités and pours more than a generous serving of alcohol into a punch bowl ready for all his guests. Unfortunately no one shows and Bill, for the next hour, is left to dream up his own party guests in a sad and ever drunker stupor. This puppet comedy show by Dorothy James and Andy Munjuck is as abnormal as it is impressive. As the show progresses we fall further and further into Bill’s bizarre fever dream, as carrots and balloons start forming personalities of their own.

To miss the delight that is Bill's party would be a shame for both you and him

The puppets are incredibly well done, although most are quite simple and depend on fairly basic designs they are undeniably effective and, thanks to the puppeteers, still evoke emotion. Bill is slightly more detailed, with a big bushy moustache and equally characteristic eyebrows. He is a joy to watch and not only do co-creators and puppeteers, Andy Manjuck and Dorothy Hames, control him expertly and with immense character, but his simple facial features and animated movements bring real emotion to the piece. Bill was able to make us sad, happy, laugh, and pity him, which is largely due to the curiously quirky character that the puppeteers constructed.

Jon Riddleberger was also a fantastic puppeteer, although with no hand on Bill, his characters were also of equal value to the show and performed incredibly well. The puppets, however, weren’t the only thing to give the show character. Eamon Fogerty’s original scoring was crucial to the change in tones and emotion that the show would go through and did it’s job to perfection.

The story itself is somber and strangely depressing, but told through an oddly joyful lens. We were shown a telling of Bill’s life from childhood to adulthood and the slowly diminishing number of people that surrounded him as he aged. However, this was shown in a creative and strangely endearing way that kept Bill’s past obscure, yet relatable. When we weren’t sitting worrying about Bill and our existence, we were laughing at the massive carrot puppet or balloons that had it in for Bill for seemingly no reason. Bill’s 44th is a charming spectacle with some incredible puppeteers behind it and to miss the delight that is Bill's party would be a shame for both you and him.

Visit Show Website

Reviews by Tom Rolph

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Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

New York Times Critics Pick ('Buoyant, mesmerizing, joy-inducing')! This poignant, puppet tragicomedy for grown-ups is a wordless spectacle featuring puppetry, raucous balloons, and a cheeky piece of crudité that collide to examine the pitfalls of impatience, the wonder of loneliness, and the universal passage of time. 'This isn’t the birthday that Bill had hoped to have. But for the audience, his 44th is a gift' (NY Times). A 'surreal tragicomedy expertly executed, enormously funny and at times delightfully unsettling' **** (Everything-Theatre.co.uk). 'Sweetly hilarious with flashes of bizarre originality' **** (TheReviewsHub.com). A 'tender and boozy puppet party' **** (Guardian).

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