In honour of this being my 100th upload to this site I am releasing a blog post I’ve been holding onto for a while. I saw Billy Elliot nearly two years ago now, so I realise this review is a little useless in a lot of ways. I wrote this review back in October 2016 the day after I saw the show but I couldn’t upload it to my blog as I used it for a University assessment.
Billy Elliot remains one of my favourite shows to this day so I wanted to document the show and give my thoughts even if I’m really rather late, so here goes…
With dancing close to my heart, you may think me biased, but I challenge anyone to go and see it and tell me it wasn’t one of the funniest, cleverest yet hard-hitting and heart wrenching show you’ll come across.
For those who have not been blessed to watch the 2000 British modern musical, Billy Elliot is a young boy living in Durham around the time of the miners strike in 1985. He ditches his boxing gloves for ballet shoes and faces the rewards and consequences that come with his decision. With ballet and boxing, expression and repression, miners in overalls and girls in tutus; this comedy musical was full of extremes, all of which were exquisitely balanced by director, Stephen Daldry.
Each scene beautifully clashed with the next. A light hearted and toe tapping dance piece ends, applause is gratefully given and then bam! Lighting change, scene change, audio change and mood change. Your mind turns from Billy and his loveable friend Micheal, played by Henry Farmer, (who absolutely brought the house down with his dressing up number “Expressing Yourself” which oozed charisma and comedy) to the tough lives of the troubled miners, which gave weight and impact to the show.
With 80% of the set based around the ballet hall or miners union, the scenery was simple yet convincing, allowing for smooth transitions and uninterrupted thoughts. The main example of this was the silent riot police along with their shields and batons. With shields interlinked they added scenery which closed in on helpless Billy, as they percussively whacked their shields along to the rhythmic marching music and not forgetting, incorporating incredibly striking yet syncopated and minimalist choreography. I would like to buy the choreographer of this scene a drink and commend them on not only succeeding in making shields and batons significant but incorporating the police into a ballet routine with the young girls of Mrs Wilkinson’s (Annette McLaughlin) dance class.
Choreographer Peter Darling is also responsible for the beautiful merging of the two walks of life, which was seamlessly and effortlessly done at many points throughout the performance. The miner’s head torches lighting the way for Billy and his path to dancing. Billy tap dancing his way over the riot police. Even the miners ending up in tutus and to scenes of Billy feeling trapped in his own town and feeling as if his family has turned against him.
The political context was appropriately intertwined with the story, more so than it was in the film. Done through a heavier focus on the miners struggle and also by a giant blow up character of a sinister looking Margaret Thatcher accompanied by the satirical and jovial tune “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher”.
A scene with Billy and his older self looking over, mirroring his ballet routine, brings a tear to my eye each time, the perfect synchronisation plucks at my heart strings and makes me reminisce to a time when I looked up to the girls in the grades above me. A spinning chair is perfectly synchronised and mirrored with both boys as they dance side by side.
Grandma Elliot, played by Andrea Miller, also holds a place close to my heart, reminding me of my own grandma. She seems to go unnoticed in the films yet steals the show with classic one liners about her missing pasty and her arse of a late husband. Her daft personality was only outshone by her love for Billy during times when he needed it most. Miller also provided some much appreciated comic relief amongst the grit and grind of the day to day life for the Elliot family.
They always say don’t work with children. Yet most of these kids were better than many adults I’ve seen act, sing and dance. My heart was stolen by the youngest of cast, a tiny little thing, yet beaming up until the curtain dropped, incredibly sharp and without a doubt the one that your eye was always drawn to. She must have only been about 6 and no bigger than a bean sprout. Little characters like her and the other young boy that I named “boy with bobble hat”, who had comedic timing to die for, surprisingly have such an impact onto a huge production. It’s the fact that little details that are thought about just as much as the big ones that make this production as strong as it is.
No celebrity names needed for this mighty strong cast. In fact, the only known name attached to Billy Elliot is Elton John for his, dare I say it, uninspiring musical score. His musical was outshone by the choreography and direction, but there were a couple of songs which stuck in my head such as “Solidarity” and “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher”.
Despite having been running for over 10 years, the show never feels stale. Light and action burst out the seams of this production and it is immensely enjoyable to watch unfold. From the versatile and definitive set, to the dynamic and powerful choreography, if there is any show I could recommend, it would be this one. To anyone, of any age, any gender and any personality.