Billy Elliot is a show that I know like the back of my hand. I’ve only seen it on stage once, some years ago, but I have listened to the original cast recording more times than I can count and with the release of the DVD last year I have been able to replay my favourite scenes over and over. However, DVD and cast recording aside, there is nothing like seeing this show live to feel the raw emotion of the show.
Set in a 1980s mining town, this show portrays two different struggles. The first, the miners’ strike and the struggle of the people of a northern mining village against the declining industry and the policies of Margaret Thatcher. Whatever you feel about Margaret Thatcher as a prime minister, you cannot help but understand these men’s point of view. The second struggle is that of the title character Billy Elliot (Ollie Jochim), and his friend Michael, in their search to be accepted for who they are in a place where they don’t quite fit in. As the characters’ journeys develop throughout the show the message is clear – you have to fight for what you believe in.
The beginning of the show (The Stars Look Down) takes you immediately to the mining town and the masculine culture. It is clear that dancing is not something that boys here do. Yet throughout the show the importance of dance becomes clear. From Grandma whose only fond memories of her husband come from the times they went dancing, to the young girls who, however bad they are at it, love their lessons to Mrs Wilkinson who believes we were ‘Born to Boogie’. And the importance of dance to Billy himself comes across so wonderfully through these lessons with Mrs Wilkinson, the moments of surprise when both of them realise he has potential to dance through to the most famous song of the show ‘Electricity’ where he explains the escape that dance gives him, and where his Dad and brother Tony are finally proud of him.
The dancing in the show itself is beautiful, from the choreography and movement during the songs through to the more emotional scenes such as ‘Angry Dance’ and the ‘Swan Lake’ scene. The raw emotion in these numbers is amazing and Ollie Jochim performed these wonderfully.
At this point it feels relevant to mention the first of the ‘technical difficulties’ which stopped the show and ended in part of the Swan Lake scene being cut. Such a disappointment when the older Billy (Barnaby Meredith) dancing with younger Billy, invites us into his hopes and dreams. The two actors showed such professionalism in picking up where they left off after the restart that the ‘difficulties’ were soon forgotten when Billy joined his Dad in singing ‘Deep into the Ground,’ a simple display of unity which put aside their differences.
However, sadly a failing harness wasn’t to be the only technical difficulty this show faced when, as Billy was sitting on his bed, about to open his letter from the Royal Ballet, the stage around him collapsed and fell downwards, another delay and we were back and once again I admire the professionalism of a twelve year old boy to simply deal with this and carry on. As the show drew to a close there were more tears on my part as he said goodbye and a very lively number to end a great, if emotional show.
Thus far I have barely mentioned some of the characters so here’s their time to shine starting with Michael played by Todd Bell. His advice to Billy, that there is nothing wrong with ‘Expressing Yourself’ is a great part of the show and a great message. The talent of the boys who play his character should not be forgotten as they too have to perform difficult dance routines and, perhaps more difficultly, make the audience laugh.
And then there’s Grandma played by Gillian Elisa and Tony played by Chris Grahamson who epitomises the hardship of family life during a strike, especially in light of Billy’s mother’s death. The dead mother was played Claudia Bradley and she perhaps brings the most important message of them all in her letter to Billy ‘in everything you do, always be yourself.’
There’s the role of Dad played by Deka Walmsley and his transformation from anger into pride in his son is evident. And finally there is Mrs Wilkinson; Ruthie Henshall put in a fabulous performance as the all-singing all-dancing dance teacher who gives everything to Billy. Her character is inspirational in her dedication and belief and I can only admire her fitness to be able to complete the dances whilst singing.
Most importantly though this show would fail without an excellent ensemble who change from miners to policemen to dancers at any one point and their talent should not be forgotten.
Overall a fantastic performance despite technical difficulties which, after ten years, is still a must see show.
Review by Emily Diver
Set in a northern mining town, against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, Billy Elliot is the inspirational story of a young boy’s struggle against the odds to make his dream come true. Billy’s journey takes him out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family and whole community and changes his life forever.
Wednesday 29th April 2015