I can’t quite believe it took me so long to see Billy Elliot. Despite the fact I love musicals, and go to the theatre so often, I hadn’t seen a classic which ranks highly in many people’s favourites.
I put that right a few weeks ago, when my lovely friend Anthea came for a day trip to London, and we headed along to a matinee.
I think I was slightly apprehensive pre-show for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the film so much, and it’s so fantastically made, that I wondered how the stage version could compare. Secondly, having heard people rave about the show for years, I wondered whether my expectations had been set too high.
It’s safe to say my apprehensions were unnecessary.
Billy Elliot the musical has all of the heart of the original film, and manages to sustain that same juxtaposition of beautiful story of a young boy’s dreams against the political backdrop of Maggie Thatcher and the miners’ strike.
The show opens with Billy watching news reel clips, placing the show immediately within its context, and ‘The Stars Look Down’ is a great opening number. The combined voices of the male cast as the miners made a fantastic sound, one which was rousing and at times incredibly chilling. This is also true in ‘Solidarity’, which is one of my favourite songs of the show. This scene excellently presented the children’s ballet world and the strike alongside one another, and summed up a real sense of ‘them and us’, and the united front of the miners.
The set was another impressive feature of the show. Walls around the side of the stage provided the walls of Billy’s home, walls of the hall where ballet took place, and also as the rows of terraced houses in the village. A spiral staircase rising from a trapdoor added to Billy’s home, with a tiny bed set atop it to create his bedroom. Other smaller parts to the set, such as the toilet cubicles and wire fences leading to the mines were pulled out from these side fixtures.
Our Billy Elliot was the fantastic Thomas Hazelby, and he honestly blew me away. He was immediately so likeable, and the audience were with him every step of the way. His dancing was, of course, stunning, as showcased in ‘Swan Lake’, performed as a duet with an older version of himself. The ‘Angry Dance’ at the end of Act One was one of the most breath-taking moments of the show, and for such a young man to portray such anger and frustration and violent passion in such a raw way was just brilliant. ‘Electricity’ was another of his standout moments, and was performed with complete confidence and passion.
Which brings me onto the other person present onstage during that song: Dad. Deka Walmsley was my favourite cast member, both in his moments of anger and his moments of pride. I was in tears at his reaction to realising his son’s dreams, and when he finally began to put his son’s future before his own. The father character goes on such a journey in the story of Billy Elliot, and Walmsley played the part to perfection.
Another beautiful moment I must mention simply because of my theatre buddy Anthea’s reaction: ‘The Letter (Mum’s Letter)’. This was so simple, yet so emotional and beautifully performed that she was in bits (she may tell me off for passing that one on!).
If you want to see an absolute classic, complete with slick staging and fantastic casting, I can now agree that Billy Elliot could potentially be one to book your tickets for!