Billy Elliot first came to our screens in 2000. Directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Jamie Bell, it told the story of an eleven year old boy who develops a love for ballet. Set in the midst of the 1984-1985 miners' strike, when tensions are high, Billy must face both physical and emotional battles with his family if he is going to achieve his dreams.
Despite being rated a 15, I watched Billy Elliot two years before I was technically allowed, when our English teacher showed it in lesson. While the rest of the class were entertained by the excessive use of insults like 'twat' and 'poof', I was inspired by the story and uplifted by the songs; it is filled with rage, love, passion, humour, energy, and an important message that says 'be proud of who you are'.
It was not long after I saw the film, that Billy Elliot: The Musical arrived on the West End in 2005. Although I have always wanted to see it, I never went, simply because I'm not keen on having to travel into the centre of London to get to the theatre. That, plus the fact that tickets are expensive for a good seat.
So two months ago, when I heard that Billy Elliot: The Musical was going to be broadcast live in cinemas on the 28th September, I wasted no time booking tickets. I booked so early that the guy behind the counter had no idea what I was talking about and kept trying to sell me tickets for Guardians of the Galaxy. Umm, no thank you. After repeating myself about four times, we finally got sorted, and I had the choice of any seat. I chose middle isle, which is always my favourite play to be. Typically I was penalised for booking early. When I arrived on the night, the broadcast had been moved to a different screening room, and subsequently my seats had been changed as well. Front centre. My least favourite spot. Not only did it mean I had to crank my neck up, I ended up sitting next to some toddlers. I was quite surprised by this, because I thought the play was rated 15 like the film. I realised later that it was only a 12A, which is odd considering the amount strong language. If you are sensitive about what language your children hear, I would not recommend taking them to the show.
Before the curtains rose we got a behind the scenes look into the making of the musical. It was interesting to learn about some of the props, sets, and costumes; for example, they use different height chairs to give the stage the perception of extra length, a feather fan costs £12, and Billy has ten different costumes to change into.
There are four different children currently playing Billy in the musical, including Elliott Hanna, Bradley Perret, Matteo Zecca, and Ollie Jochim. Elliot Hanna was performing for the live broadcast; for his first acting job, the eleven year old was spectacular. He had endless energy; I don't know how he kept going through some of those routines. It was exhausting just watching.
Image from billyelliotthemusical.com
Of course, since Billy Elliot: The Musical began, nine years ago, there have been a great many Billys. Twenty-seven to be exact, and as part of a special performance at the end of the show, they all came on stage and danced together in a grande finale. Among these was twenty-two year old Liam Mower, one of the first three Billys. For that one night only, Mower returned to play the role of 'Older Billy', and showed everyone just how far he'd come. He's gone from Billy Elliot to Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.
The musical opening in a very unexpected way, as a young boy baring remarkable resemblance to The Milkybar Kid walked down through the audience and clambered up on stage. For a moment, I thought he was a child from the audience that had accidentally escaped his parents' grasp. This is followed by brief archive footage about the miners' strike, which to be honest, I found unnecessary, but did set everything in context.
The way the film has been adapted to the stage is very creative; the plot is all linear, but the individual scenes all merge into one another. Confrontations between the police and miners bleed into Mrs. Wilkinson's ballet classes, which implies how the politics of the outside world are intruding on Billy's life.
The best part, however, has to when Billy visits Michael's house and sees him wearing his sister's clothes. The reinterpretation of this scene is so imaginative and carefree. Michael is much more outgoing and camp than in the film. He is played by Zach Atkinson (as well as Todd Bell and Tomi Fry), who has no inhibitions whatsoever. He dives into the role wholeheartedly.
Another minor character that they developed was Mr. Braithwaite, the pianist. He brought extra notes of comedy through slapstick, and was surprisingly agile.
Initially I was disappointed that the songs from the film were not used in the musical. I missed the songs from T-Rex, The Clash, and The Jam. But once I got over that fact, I began to enjoy the original songs by Elton John, 'Solidarity' being a particular favourite. I also thought 'Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher' was very clever, but after the recent passing, did feel a bit uncomfortable at the same time.
Other times I felt a bit awkward was when they were singing during serious moments, such as 'Deep into the Ground' and 'The Letter'. I think songs work well during energetic or happy moments, but not so much for solemn scenes. They felt forced an unnatural.
Image from billyelliotthemusical.com
I think overall, there was a slight unbalance between humour and seriousness. Billy's audition, for example, mocked the stereotypes Royal Ballet School a bit too much.
While some parts did not live up to my expectations of the film, Billy Elliot: The Musical is an exceptional play, brought to life by brilliant actors/dancers. The live broadcast was for one night only, but there will be encore performances in cinemas nationwide between 2nd - 5th October.
If you would rather see it live, Victoria Palace Theatre is currently taking bookings until 19th December 2015. Tickets range from £19.50 - £69.50.