Billy Elliot The Musical
The Bristol Hippodrome
Tuesday 25th October – Saturday 26th November 2016
The multi award winning smash hit Billy Elliot arrived at the Bristol Hippodrome on Tuesday and the boys and I were invited along to the press evening. At Practically Perfect Mums we watch and review a lot of shows but I’ve been particularly excited about taking the children to this first ever UK and Ireland tour of Billy Elliot. So how was it? Well, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or be shocked!
In a northern mining town, against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, Billy, whose Mum is dead, lives with his forgetful Grandma (Andrea Miller) and his Dad (Martin Walsh) and older brother Tony (Scott Garnham) who are both striking miners. Unbeknownst to his family, Billy abandons the boxing classes he’s been reluctantly attending in favour of a ballet class he stumbles upon. He discovers a passion for dance that horrifies his family when they first find out about it, but eventually inspires the whole community and changes his life forever.
BILLY ELLIOT REVIEW
The principal children’s roles are rotated but in the production we’re watching Billy Elliot is played superbly by Haydn May from Bath. This has to be one of the most demanding roles I’ve ever come across for a child. Haydn is on the stage virtually all the time dancing tap, ballet, performing gymnastics (aerials, cartwheels and round off flicks, as my own ten year old gymnast tells me they’re called), acting, reciting about a million lines and singing, while maintaining a convincing Geordie accent. He tears at my heartstrings during scenes with his dead Mother (Nikki Gerrard). Watching him I’m convinced he must be older than Billy’s twelve years to carry such a huge role, but no, I discover later that he’s actually only eleven. He’s clearly worked hard to get here. He’s a member of local groups, Tap Attack in Swindon, Bristol Hawks Gymnastics Club and has trained at the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing.
Impressive as Haydn is, he doesn’t leave his co-actors in the shadows. Billy’s friend Michael (played by ten year old Henry Farmer) also lights up the stage. Sporting a hot-pink rara skirt, he’s the most endearing prepubescent transvestite I’ve ever seen! Michael maintains a sweet naivety while exploring his sexuality, putting Billy’s hands against his bare chest to ‘keep him warm’ and enticing Billy to try on an array of women’s clothes in possibly the craziest and funniest scene of the show.
Grandma is a laugh a minute and I can’t wait to hear her deliver more lines like:-
“What do you know about social agitation? You’re not wearing any trousers!”
There’s so much going on all the time that it’s hard to pick a couple of highlights, but I particularly like the way violent clashes at the picket line are depicted. The use of riot shields and the mobile fencing during the scab scene are very effective.
Billy’s dance with his future self (Luke Cinque-White) is beautiful, although I have my heart in my mouth when he spins seemingly out of control above the stage.
Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life, but I don’t recall ever seeing anyone tap dancing while skipping before, so this unusual scene at the dance school with chain smoking ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson (Annette McLaughlin) and overweight but enthusiastic pianist, Mr Braithwaite (Daniel Page) is a joy to watch!
Much of the action takes places at the Miners’ Welfare, a tatty community centre type of building. Instead of changing the set completely, other scenes are revealed within the same space, for example, at times it becomes Billy’s house, which is wheeled in and out, made up of a kitchenette and Billy’s tiny bedroom overhead.
It’s amusing to watch as the actors themselves reveal additional sets in this area. The dance teacher pulls out a row of toilets, a focal point for several significant conversations. On the other side of the stage Billy opens the door on his friend Michael, introducing one of the funniest scenes in the whole show when Michael persuades Billy to join him in trying on women’s clothes.
My boys and everyone else we spoke to adored this production, but on paper you might think this show is totally unsuitable for children!
Firstly I need to mention the almost back to back bad language and we’re not talking about “ruddy hell!”. This is a mining community going through the most stressful of times so it makes sense that the language is ripe and the way it’s done is hilarious. I know it’s not big and it’s not clever but, instead of shooting disapproving looks I find it hard to contain my laughter as the sweet looking nativity Angels, complete with gauze wings and tinsel halos, belt out the lyrics to “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher” in their thick Geordie accents:-
Oh my darling, Oh my darling,Oh my darling HeseltineYou’re a tosser, you’re a wankerAnd you’re just a Tory Swine.
The show’s really long for children to sit through, running for approximately three hours.
Sexism, Prejudice, Transveritism and Explorations of Sexuality
A few of politically incorrect lines go over the boys heads like:-
“It’s not just poofs that do ballet. Look at that Wayne Sleep!”
and Billy’s stilted reading of an envelope
“William Elliot … is … queer”
The upside of the long running time is that my boys are so tired by the end that the only post-show conversations we manage on the way home are about the miners strike, which country the Geordie accent comes from (!) and the answer to:-
“What’s a ‘poof’ Mummy?”
Despite all that, would I let my children watch it again? Hell yeah! We enjoyed it so much I’d like them to be in Billy Elliot!
I’m in awe of the child actors in Billy Elliot. They make us laugh, tear at our heart strings and own the stage. Clearly nobody’s told them how hard this stuff is. Perhaps a bit of the fictional Billy Elliot has worn off on them. But I don’t limit my praise to just the kids. The rest of the cast, the choreography, effects and music all work together to make this easily one of the best, funniest and most uplifting shows I’ve ever seen. The whole show is fabulous and I really didn’t want it to end.
Very highly recommended
CAST AND CREDITS
The principal children’s roles are alternated.
Billy Elliot is played by Haydn May (11 years old from Bath) who trained at the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing and is a member of Tap Attack in Swindon and the Bristol Hawks Gymnastics Club, Adam Abbou (12 years old from Liverpool), Matthew Lyons (11 years old from Leeds) and Lewis Smallman (12 years old from West Bromwich)
Billy’s best friend Michael is played by Henry Farmer (10 years old from Lancashire), Elliot Stiff (9 years old from Sunderland) and Samuel Torpey (9 years old from Manchester) .
Debbie is played by Lilly Cadwallender (10 years old from Hartlepool), Evie Martin (10 years old from Middlesbrough) and Italia Ross (10 years old from Hartlepool).
Annette McLaughlin is Mrs Wilkinson, Martin Walsh is ‘Dad’, Scott Garnham is ‘Tony’ and Andrea Miller is ‘Grandma’.
The company also includes Phillip Aiden, Jonathan Alden, Leo Atkin, Tom Bainbridge, Deborah Bundy, Jack Butterworth, Luke Cinque-White, Donna Combe, Wayne Fitzsimmons, Nikki Gerrard, Abbie Louise Harris, Paul Hutton, Leon Kay, Charlie Martin, Kris Manuel, Barnaby Meredith, Daniel Page, Georgina Parkinson, Amy Rhiannon-Worth, Rachel Spurrell, Sebastian Sykes, Rafe Watts and Luke Zammit.
Billy Elliot the Musical is brought to life by the multiple award-winning creative team behind the film including writer Lee Hall (book and lyrics), director Stephen Daldry, and choreographer, Peter Darling, joined by Elton John who composed the show’s score. The production features scenic design by Ian MacNeil, the associate director is Julian Webber, costume design is by Nicky Gillibrand, lighting design by Rick Fisher and sound design by Paul Arditti. Musical supervision and orchestrations are by Martin Koch.
Billy Elliot the Musical is presented by Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions and is based on the Universal Pictures/Studio Canal film. The show is produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn and Sally Greene. Angela Morrison and David Furnish are executive producers.
Billy Elliot the Musical
The Bristol Hippodrome
Tuesday 25 October – Saturday 26 November 2016
Mon – Sat at 7.30 pm
Mats on Thu & Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets: from £22.00
Click here for information on booking this show.
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DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW.
ALL OPINIONS ARE MY/OUR OWN. POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS