BILLY ELLIOT – LONDON – 11 JUNE 2005

Translations of film to stage are not always successful but Billy Elliot is a prime example of how it not only works but builds and enhances the original film. In one word the musical is fabulous – funny, emotional, gritty, realistic and moving. There are some wonderful staging, choreography and performances which as one cannot be praised enough.

Based in the Yorkshire town of Earington in the 1980’s a young boy tries to fight decades of tradition and views to gain his dream of being a ballet star with the local dance teacher’s support. Fighting against what is expected of him, in that he should follow his father and brother into the pits, given the hope and encouragement of one teacher be given his chance to shine. The turning point in the community is seen as they all join together, despite striking, to find the money to send him to London for his audition. He gives them something else to believe in for a while.

James Lomas as Billy is amazing, his dancing phenomenal and a wonderful portrayal of this mixed up teenage boy who finds in Mrs Wilkinson the feminine influence he misses so much in his mum. In addition to his skill at dancing he was very good at portraying Billy when he started to dance, more awkward and showing the gradual build up to his final dance during Electricity. The anger as he threw himself against the police shields throwing every bit of bitter resentment and anger at begin told that he could not dance any more. This contrasted with the poignant ‘Dear Billy’ as he talked, in his head, to his Mum who had died three years before and the complete unquestioning and matter of fact way he accepted that his friend Michael dressed up in his mam’s clothes. Ashley Lloyd gave a great and natural performance as Michael. A character completely at ease with his own sexuality and has no qualms to expressing excitement at wearing a tutu or swapping his chemistry set for a Sindy. The tap routine both did, with the contents of the wardrobe who joined in the tap dance, was brilliant. Both boys had the stage presence to fill the stage and this showbiz moment contrasts with the very final scene where as Billy walks up the aisle of the theatre Michael appears on stage and Billy runs back to give him a kiss on the cheek. As the curtain falls Michael is left alone in the middle of the stage.

Tim Healy was excellent in the role of Billy’s Father, played with grittiness and anger but someone who you can have sympathy with from the start, you know what has brought him to this and at the Christmas party as she starts to sing about his wife you see the emotion which has been buried inside. The frustration and despair as he has to go against one son in order to help the other is concluded in emotional showdown with Tony as both try and understand what is going on. His tears of pride as Billy dances at the audition gave such a real heart to him especially when he is very much a fish out of water.

Haydn Gwynne was also excellent as the no nonsense ballet school teacher, Mrs Wilkinson. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, having to spend each week teaching girls to do ballet when most of them aren’t interested. She exists rather than lives and yet Billy lights that spark within her, she sees someone who has the potential to get out and make something, someone who doesn’t have to settle into this existence. A seemingly harsh woman who pushes hard but is brought to tears as she reads the letter Billy’s mum left for him. She has a wonderful array of costumes which for anyone who was a child of the 80’s will love the ‘look’!.

Billy’s older brother is bitter, angry and resentful , he knows that for him there will be no job in 10 years so what does the future hold for him. He has taken over the running of the house since his mother died. Joe Caffrey has captured the character and personality of Tony completely, as with his father you sympathise with him as the frustration of not being able to control your own life takes over.

Ann Emery is great as the slightly dotty Grandma. She may do some odd things and she seemingly spends much in her own mind but she obviously knows what goes on around her . I loved the staging of the song ‘We’d go dancing’ as she remembered about her husband and how she wished she hadn’t ever married him. From the stage left the men of the club, where she met her husband, seemingly come out of the walls and placed down their chairs to create a scene but then during the song it was as though the scene rolled across the stage as very gracefully one line of people moved their chairs over the heads of others and created another scene and finally as they got to the other side of the stage they would roll out of the windows, one man opened a panel in the scenery and literally folded into the scene. All through this grandma danced with them but all the time the image that these were always a memory - beautifully done.

The whole company were excellent, producing some great characters that you could easily identify with. Steve Elias had the thankless task of the ballet piano teacher, who shows he can strut his stuff with his Fame look in Born to Boogie and Trevor Fox as the reluctant boxing coach, forever with his flat cap on, the most unconvincing Father Christmas (assisted by Tony in a very fetching Elf outfit) Stephanie Putson as Billy’s Mum - lovely moments when Mrs Wilkinson is reading the letter and his mum appears and the moment where Billy hugs his mum with such desperation is very moving and the culmination of the show where he says goodbye cannot fail to bring anyone to tears . This was an extraordinary example of James’ acting ability as he finally let his mum go and as he walked away his face was tear stained.

The ballet classes – all praise to the girls, for they could easily fall into the stage school look but not once, they were totally believable and again by being good dancers they knew how to portray those less gifted. Amongst them were some great little characters and it was lovely to watch them. Emma Hudson as Mrs Wilkinson’ daughter Debbie – lovely performance, again natural

I really liked the staging of the song ’ Solidarity’ as the miners and police clashed yet still within the community the girls held their weekly ballet class. A great idea and way to show that whatever is happening life does go on. As the miners sat one the chairs and the girls danced around them and the men held them it was a wonderful blend of the culture of the community. The whole song continually had this interaction with the miners, police and girls.

As Billy is left alone on Christmas day in the gym hall he dances his frustration away only to be confronted with the image of his older self . They start the same routine twisting a chair continually as they use it to balance. This sequence culminates in the Older Billy pushing Billy in the air and for those few moments he is flying or as he sings later ‘flying without wings, like Electricity’

The Christmas Party is a prime example of the community party where the adults put it on for the kids but the heart isn’t really in it for them. The bitterness to the Government and Maggie Thatcher clear and even extends to the girls, with their angel wings, as they sing to the tune of darling Clementine, about the Heseltine in words obviously not written by themselves.

Music wise the two songs that stick in my mind are the ones I had already heard ‘Electricity’ and ‘Express Yourself’, I want to hear it again and I want to see the show again without question. There is so much to love about it and my descriptions are just not enough !

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