This review was original posted on thepdq. In February 2016. This re-post contains minor changes in tense.
Close to its eleventh anniversary, this film-originated musical sadly closed at London’s Victoria Palace theatre in April 2016 before embarking on a National Tour. I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of the audience, if only once. Though I’m a, well, fanatic, about musical theatre, I have never attended a performance where I (very literally) broke down and cried. From the first note of the show I could tell I was in for a very emotional performance.
But don’t get me wrong – the show wasn’t all doom and gloom. Most people know the story of Billy Elliot, the Durham boy who finds a talent for dance but is pulled back by the expectations of his family, all caught up in Thatcher’s politics of the ’80s and the infamous mining strikes. The production made use of classic northern humour, and the working class background of the Elliot family did not feel forced or staged but real, which I think is one of the reasons I felt such a connection to the play, coming from a working class family myself. Additionally, the use of footage from the miners strikes at the beginning of the show not only helped set the scene but added a historical authenticity, as well as bringing back older members of the audience back into the mindset of this decade.
I could talk for a long while about this show, and why it is now my favourite, but I’ll try and keep it brief for you busy readers. Like any professional show, the talent was phenomenal. The fact that the majority of this talent radiated from the children, particularly the titular Billy, was astounding and heart-wrenching. The sheer stamina the child had, and the sheer passion I could feel right from the dress circle when he danced is too much to even be described. He danced a plethora of complex solo dances, from ballet to tap and contemporary, also incorporating gymnastics. The most impressive moment for me was the “dream sequence”, in which young Billy danced a duet with his imagined older self, incorporating atmospheric smoke and flying. A beautiful piece of choreography.
“If you want to be dancer, dance.
If you want to be a miner, mine”
The show was one which I could feel a “solidarity” from the cast, and the writing of the show kept to the natural humour and heartbreak of the original film, whilst adding some theatrical touches, such as that of a sequence which saw both mining strike and ballet class played out simultaneously, effortlessly juxtaposing the two aspects of Billy’s life perfectly. This is the reason I feel that as a piece of theatre Billy excels. It is not just a cardboard copy of the film: it keeps the essence of the story whilst adding its own spin, and the themes of the play (community, dreams, family, and desire) all resonate within us, which is why Billy Elliot has made such an impact on both British society and ourselves.