Fans of the original Billy Elliott movie, also directed by Stephen Daldry can expect a little bit of extra magic from the Wales Millennium Centre’s hosting of the hugely successful Billy Elliott production.
Charismatically led by the mesmerising young actor Lewis Smallman, the show takes us on a pleasing detour from the original film script. We not only see brand new additions to the story but lengthier explorations in to the characters of Billy’s Mam, Nana and Michael (who you may remember has a penchant for his sister’s clothes and has a soft spot for his friend Billy). There are plenty of cheeky exchanges and gritty working class banter courtesy of the superb ensemble cast and the kind of unguarded and politically incorrect observations and comments reminiscent of drunk uncles or grandfathers at Christmas. This was the eighties, after all!
The show respectfully and tastefully contextualises a time of great fear and a sense of national panic about the fate of mining communities, punctuated by the innocence and childish sense of fun of Billy and his fiend Michael. The two battle with conforming to the unwelcome stereotypes and limitations placed upon them in the masculine mining communities during the miner’s strike. Throughout the whole production, the community is at war with the police on the picket lines and the sense of hatred towards Margaret Thatcher is palpable. There are sprinklings of ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie Maggie – out, out, out!’ chants, naughty jokes, insults, political Thatcher and Heseltine puppets and an incredibly designed giant Margaret Thatcher (milk snatcher) model emerging from the stage at one point, which will remind you of the ‘Spitting Image’ years. There is a simply spectacular scene where Billy and his ballet classmates are in the middle of a lesson while dancing coppers clash with picketing miners…the story telling in Darling’s choreography, use of pace and the physicality of the actors was a powerful highlight for me.
I loved the additional scene in the musical where Andrea Miller’s character Nanna paints a picture of what life was like for women when ‘men went out to mine’. For all the much-romanticised community spirit and camaraderie of the mining men…life was pretty shit for the women left behind.
Nanna’s rebelliousness and Joie de vivre as she literally gives the finger to gender stereotypes and misogyny is infectious and this nod to gender politics and male chauvinism was later echoed when Billy caught Michael trying on dresses. Michael innocently asks ‘What’s wrong with being dressed as a girl?’, as if dressing as a girl is worse than actually being one. There is a fantastically camp and cute scene where Michael and Billy deliver an incredible call to action during their energetic and playful dance piece: be who you want to be – dress and all!
While Daldry’s movie gave us pacy cinematic editing and a razor sharp script, it’s fair to say the script for the on-stage production doesn’t quite match the quality of the original film script. Some of the lyrics and exchanges are a little simple and at times clichéd. On the first night of its long run, some of the Geordie accents were a bit ropey and there were some sound issues with a creaking set BUT we are more than compensated with incredible choreography thanks to Peter Darling. This is a real shot of adrenaline in the arm and a classic feel-good show. Go see this show, take your Mam…wear a tutu, even – you won’t regret it.
Title: Billy Elliott
Venue: Wales Millennium Centre
Dates (15th June-16 July), PN 15th June.
Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Director: Stephen Daldry
Design: Ian Macneil
Technical: Costume by Nicky Gillibrand; Lighting by Rick Fisher, Sound by Paul Arditti.
Cast includes: Anette McLaughlin, Martin Walsh, Andrea Miller and Scott Garnham.
Producer(s) Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn and Sally Greene.
Running time: 3hrs