THEATRE-MAKER Gary McNair has been set a daunting task – collecting the stories of people who have been touched by Billy Connolly. It’s one that he relishes.

Dear Billy, produced by National Theatre of Scotland and billed as a love letter to the Big Yin from the people of Scotland, opens tomorrow in Kilmarnock at the start of an extensive tour of Scotland.

It is partly an evolving canvass upon which the man himself is promised to be writ large.

McNair says: “It’s a real honour to get the stories. I am so lucky that I have been given this.”

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On Connolly, he says: “He’s like an elder of the community, very philosophical, and he has always wanted to know, ‘Aye but why, why is it like this’.”

So why is McNair doing this? Because almost all of us have stories. McNair has set out to capture the effect Connolly has had upon us. McNair explains: “We had teams of researchers, street teams, people who went to clubs and societies and things like that as well as targeting people who had been in a documentary with him or have worked in the same place with him at the same time or were part of the folk scene.”

But the show deliberately focuses on the ordinary people who have been most affected and affecting for Connolly.

McNair, who was among the researchers, says: “People are so used to being approached in the street by somebody trying to sell you something that by the time you get them to stop they are already working out how to get away from you. When you say you’re not selling them anything, but you want to ask them about the Big Yin, they suddenly stop and their faces light up.”

Although the team recruited the views of more recognisable faces, none are mentioned as McNair wants to avoid the pitfall of checking through “internationally recognised names.” He did, however, exclusively reveal that they had not spoken to at least one of Billy’s wee pals, a certain King Charles: “Billy is friends with so many people, of so many highfalutin places.”

McNair’s democratic spirit also runs through the piece. He says: “To me everyone is the same. They are just people who have a response to this man and can tell you something about themselves and that is what it’s about.”

It is a heady mix, “The concept of the show is that when we fuse all these different characters together , all these different voices, you end up with a shaggy dog story which starts to replicate and mimic the way Billy puts together a show.”

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McNair stresses that the play is not about exploring anything new about Connolly: “It’s a piece of theatre in its own right.”

Neither is it a tribute act. McNair will not be playing Connolly in any sense. Instead, the focus is on the tales told. “A lot of people open up a bit about themselves when we talk to them, giving people a chance to speak about somebody they love.

“And it is genuinely beautiful. You often get a wee bit of themselves as well, a wee bit of their hopes, their lives, their future, because it has opened a portal into them, into a vulnerable space through love – true love they have for him.

“When people talk about Billy, they naturally go into a Billy headspace. It’s just a totally joyous thing.

“One of the best ways to honour Billy is to talk about his humour. He is the guy who says, ‘we should be talking about this,’ and ‘this is weird’, and ‘this is mad’.

“He’s not a guy who tries to come up with the next joke. He wants to talk about the human experience, he wants to talk about the human condition, and if you want to honour Billy, you don’t just go, ‘what’s the funniest thing he’s ever done?’.

“If you want to know what we think about ourselves as a country, as individuals, what he taught us it is not to shy away from the stuff of life.

“The show goes to places where people are very honest. He has done a lot for people. He is not just a comedian that people look up at, he’s had a real impact on a lot of people’s lives.”

And as important: “Hopefully we’ll have a laugh as well!”