As part of my sister’s recent birthday celebrations I got us tickets for Billy Elliot – The Musical. It’s been on my “must-see” list for the longest time – we’re talking years! – meaning it was as much a treat for me as for my sister and consequently left me feeling as though I’d somehow ‘cheated’ her out of a truly genuine birthday gift that was just for HER.
In any case, I’m pleased to report the long wait to see the show was a) worth it and b) totally worth it!
So, to set the scene: Billy lives in the mining district of Durham in the North-East of England, which is in the midst of the 1984/5 miner’s strike (when the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took on the miners’ union and ultimately won). Billy’s brother and father are two of the striking miners amongst a community of strikers fighting for economic survival.
Against such a grim backdrop you’d be forgiven for thinking that humour and the laughter it incites would be misplaced, even inappropriate. But this, for me at least, is what makes the show so powerful.
I failed miserably in my attempts to fight back laughter when Billy is sent off to boxing lessons at the local community hall and instead stumbles upon a ballet class filled with dancing girls in white tights and tutu’s. Billy is comically out of place, but soon he discovers that dance is the outlet for some much needed self-expression that also allows him to escape the grim reality of his life, however briefly.
The dancing is as mesmerising as it is exhausting to watch and the music, by none other than Sir Elton John, is used to good effect, particularly when in a chilling and atmospheric scene Billy’s brother and father return to the mines.
Billy’s rapport with his best friend Michael is perhaps the most touching of all. Truth be told, I found him to be just as memorable as Billy himself. The hilarity that comes with Michael dressing up in his mother’s clothes (and which leads him to insist he is most definitely not a “poof” – a derogatory term for a gay man) is in many ways what makes him a semi-tragic figure, because adults in the audience will arguably recognize he is already on the cusp of grappling with an identity and sexuality he is not quite ready to face in a community not ready (or willing) to face it.
Understandably, some folk have made comment about the swearing that for the most part is consigned to the earlier parts of the show, citing it as a reason not to take under 13’s; something for you parents/guardians out there to consider and ultimately a personal judgement call to make.
Verdict: Billy Elliot was like those rarest of gifts – gifts that are so perfect, so amazing, they can only be a birthday/Christmas/friendship present rolled into one, wrapped up in glorious red ribbon and hand-delivered with love. It was quite simply a wonderful treat, only made more magical because the actual birthday girl loved it too!
Billy Elliot is scheduled to run at the Victoria Palace Theatre until May 2015. My sister and I went to a weekday evening showing and they are typically the more expensive tickets (ours being approximately £68). We were seated in the dress circle, row J, and had a great view of the spectacular stage.
Photographs by Alastair Muir
VICTORIA PALACE THEATRE
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