Newest Review: ... of a young boy 'Billy Elliot' who discovers he has a talent for ballet dancing, rather than boxing which he is taught after school. Thi... more
"I can't really explain it. I haven't got the words..."
Billy Elliot - The Musical
Member Name: Wickedinrock
Billy Elliot - The Musical
Advantages: Fantastic cast, wonderful songs and dancing, especially by Billy!
~~ Billy Elliot ~~
Billy Elliot is a show based on the 2000 film of the same name starring Jamie Bell and Julie Walters. It was first adapted for the stage in 2005 by Elton John, Lee Hall and Steven Daldry, the film's director. Elton John attended the premiere of Billy Elliot and was a huge fan, so the opportunity to put music to Lee Hall's lyrics was something he could not pass up. It opened in London's West End to great acclaim, receiving nominations for 9 Laurence Olivier Awards in its first year and winning 'Best New Musical'. It is still running with full audiences every night and has since opened on Broadway, in Australia and gone on tour.
Set in Durham against the background of the 1984/85 miners' strike, Billy Elliot is the story of a young boy's dream to become a ballet dancer, against all the odds., Billy comes from a working class home and lives with his father, brother and grandma. His father and brother are miners who are on strike so there is very little money in the home but with the little money he does have, Billy's dad sends him to weekly boxing classes with a 50p coin. One week Billy is late and ends up watching a ballet class and the teacher Mrs Wilkinson gets him to join in. This becomes a regular thing, with Billy using the 50p for dance classes and it soon becomes obvious that he is a gifted dancer. As Mrs Wilkinson takes more interest in Billy's new talent, he starts to dream that there might be life outside of Durham.
~~ The cast ~~
Billy - Aaron Watson
Mrs Wilkinson - Genevieve Lemon
Dad - Martin Marquez
Tony - Tom Lorcan
Grandma - Romy Baskerville (Diane Langton's understudy)
Michael - Connor Kelly
I was so impressed with the cast that we saw. Every single one could sing and dance and the characters that required it all had great comic timing. For the first time in a long time I got to see a show where none of the cast had come through a TV talent show! Wicked, Legally Blonde, The Wizard of Oz, Grease, Oliver and even Les Miserables - they all now try to grab a bit of publicity from these talent show finalists, hoping to attract a new audience in those who watch Saturday night TV. Billy Elliot does not have to rely on this kind of publicity, in fact, I'm not aware of any adverts or campaigns to promote the show and it seems to have a packed audience every night without assistance.
Aaron Watson who played Billy was simply outstanding. For a 12 year old boy he had a lovely, pure singing voice and was a tremendous dancer. Tap, ballet, acrobatics, flips across the stage - he could do it all. He acted the part really well and had good chemistry with his father, his late mother (who appears as a ghost) and Mrs Wilkinson. Connor Kelly who played Michael was a real scene stealer. Michael is Billy's camp best friend who likes to dress up in women's clothes and loves the fact that Billy dances. He had the audience in fits of laughter with his swearing and camp jokes and he was also a fantastic dancer especially during the song 'Expressing Yourself'.
Martin Marquez and Tom Lorcan played Billy's dad and brother who are miners on strike. They are two of the leaders of the strike in their town and well known in the community. They are both quite dark, solemn characters mainly to do with their work/financial situation and they play the roles perfectly. It is not until the dad realises just how talented Billy is that the audience start to warm to him when we see he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to give his son a chance in life. The grandmother is usually played by Diane Langton but we saw the understudy Romy Baskerville in the role. She was very good and was hilarious singing the appropriately named 'Grandma's Song' all about her ex-husband who she hated! Mrs Wilkinson was played to perfection by Genevieve Lemon. I can't quite tell whether I like the character of Mrs Wilkinson. In one way, she is the reason that Billy loves to dance. She introduced him to it, got him the audition and spent hours training him. However, at the same time she almost seems to resent him for having the chance that she never did and is quite mean to him at the beginning, where as an audience member I wanted her to take him under her wing and treat him as her own child!
A special mention here to the ballet girls! They were so cute in their little tutus and really brought a lot of life to the show which is based in a town where there is not much to cheer about. They really made some of the songs and had some really funny lines between them, especially Debbie whose relationship with Billy was amusing!
~~ The songs ~~
The first time I saw Billy Elliot two years ago, the songs did not make much of an impression on me. I remember enjoying them at the time but within a few days I had forgotten them all. I can't imagine this will be the case this time as I am still singing them a few days later and am probably going to download them! It definitely isn't as catchy a soundtrack as some of its West End counterparts such as Wicked, The Lion King, Les Miserables or even Legally Blonde, but it definitely holds its own. I find that where some shows tell the story through the songs, the soundtrack to Billy Elliot is just there to accompany the story. I actually prefer it in this instance.
One of the funniest parts of the show is 'Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher', a song which is sung at the miner's Christmas party where a huge Margaret Thatcher puppet appears on the stage. Despite their plight, they sing that they all "celebrate today, because it's one day closer to your death"! Talk of 'privatising Santa' raises laughter from the audience but the best part has to be the ballet girls singing "Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Heseltine. You're a tosser, you're a tosser and you're just a Tory swine" in their angelic voices, wearing tutus! Another favourite was 'Solidarity' where the miners sing of their commitment to the cause and to each other. It's a very rude song with some bad language in it which again makes everyone laugh, but again, the girls steal the show singing the words "Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity forever" over the top of the deep men's voices.
The saddest moment of the whole show for me was the scene where Billy sings 'The Letter' to Mrs Wilkinson; the letter his mum wrote for him before she died. As he reads it out, his mum's ghost appears and sings it to him. It's an incredibly moving ballad as she tells him how proud she is of him and how much she will miss him. It reminded me of a cross between 'You'll Never Walk Alone' from Carousel and 'A Little Fall of Rain' from Les Miserables.
Towards the end of the show Billy is auditioning for a dance school and he is asked how he feels when he dances to which he answers "I can't really explain it. I haven't got the words. It's a feeling that you can't control". It is here that he sings the song 'Electricity' which is a moving song about his love of dancing which also has the best dance of the whole show. Billy uses the song as a chance to channel his emotions into dance which includes series of back flips and a pirouette which lasts about 30 seconds! Aaron Watson is a great singer but an absolutely fantastic dancer and it's hard to believe that any of the other boys who play Billy could perform this scene so well.
My favourite song of the whole show has to be Expressing Yourself which is performed by Billy and his best friend Michael. Billy goes to visit Michael at his house and to his surprise finds him dressed up in his sister's clothes! Instead of judging, Billy is quite happy for Michael to dress him up too! This is one of the funniest parts of the show, but also shows just how talented the young boys are. They perform a dance routine including a wonderful tap sequence while singing about individuality in their women's clothing - brilliant!
~~ Tickets ~~
Tickets are currently on sale until 2012 and can be found at a range of prices. I generally have some luck going through lastminute.com who have occasional deals, sometimes including a free meal. I've included below the prices from the Billy Elliot official website which shows the regular prices. The £60-65 tickets are usually found in the front few rows of the dress circle and in the stalls, where the cheaper tickets can usually be found up in the grand circle or at the back of the stalls with restricted viewing.
Monday - Thursday Friday - Saturday
Stalls: £60.00, £45.00, £37.50, £19.50 £65.00, £49.50, £27.50
Dress Circle: £60.00, £45.00, £19.50 £65.00, £49.50, £27.50
Grand Circle: £37.50, £27.50, £19.50 £37.50, £27.50, £19.50
Boxes: £60.00, £27.50 £65.00, £27.50
Knowing the London theatre websites as I do, I was aware of 'Get Into London Theatre'; a scheme that comes about in the winter months, reducing the price of tickets to some of the best shows in London as an incentive to try to get new people interested in theatre. They normally have limited seats each night and often exclude weekends. This worked well for us as we were going on a Thursday night and we found that the top price £60 tickets were reduced to £35. There was also the option of getting £34 tickets for £25. Dad likes to have a seat where he can see the stage well and as he was paying I was quite happy to go for the reduced top price option!
~~ The Victoria Palace Theatre and its location ~~
The theatre began as a small concert venue back in 1832, however it was demolished and a new, more impressive venue was built in 1910, The Victoria Palace. Over the years it has been home to some of the most famous musicals in the West End including Annie, The Little Foxes, Buddy, High Society and Fame. Posters from these old musicals are dotted about all over the building.
The theatre is located on Victoria Street right opposite Victoria Station, one of the biggest train/tube stations in London. From here there are good transport links to the rest of London and the south. I find it one of the best theatres location-wise as I work just one stop away and it's easy for me to get home. It also has the added bonus of being located near lots of shops, bars and restaurants which is ideal for a pre-theatre meal or an after show drink. The theatre is approximately 20 metres from Cardinal Place, a large modern complex housing many chain restaurants including La Tasca, Nando's, Wagamama, Zizzi, Eat and HaHa.
~~ Inside the theatre ~~
Our seats were in the middle of the dress circle, about half way down, right in the centre next to the centre aisle. I actually requested these tickets over the phone when I saw that the website had automatically allocated me the worst seats possible! We had a perfect view of the stage and dad had room to stretch his legs! I seem to remember that the last time, my friend and I got the cheapest tickets available which were at the back of the grand circle and the viewing was quite restricted!
One thing that I was amazed by was the price of the programme - £5 for the large glossy A4 sized brochure. Normally I find that the small A5 booklet is £3.50 and the larger one is normally around £10. Billy Elliot just seemed to have the one and as an avid collector of programmes/leaflets etc I was happy to pay £5 (although dad gave me £4 of change towards it - he loves giving away the change out of his wallet!).
Regarding the bars, they were located on each floor and were quite standard. Overpriced alcoholic beverages and £2 bottles of water, along with £2 mini boxes of Pringles and expensive Cadbury's chocolate! The toilets also appeared to be located on every floor which was good as I always take notice of toilets in the theatre! When we arrived I went to the one on the ground floor near the bar. After waiting outside the door for 5 minutes I found that there were only 3 cubicles and in such a tiny space where groups of girls were congregating - it was hopeless. The better news was that in the dress circle there was a ladies toilet at the back which was completely empty at the break! Result!
~~ Overall ~~
I think Billy Elliot is one of the few musicals in the West End that has mass appeal and that I would recommend to most people. Anyone who is offended by swearing or parents who don't want their children hearing it might not appreciate the colourful language but it is all in keeping with the setting of the show - a working class town during the coal miner's strike. It is an absolutely brilliant spectacle but due to the emotional aspects of the show it's not something I could go back and watch again soon or watch regularly like I can with some other musicals (the crying took everything out of me!). As far as I know Billy Elliot doesn't have a massive fan base of addicted fans like Legally Blonde and Wicked who hang around at the stage door every night in hope of meeting the stars or that come back 50+ times. However, I can't imagine anyone leaving that show saying anything negative about it.
Billy Elliot is one of the most popular musicals in London and it still commands full house audiences every night. Taking a successful film and making it into a West End musical has become very popular but nothing exemplifies this like Billy Elliot. The combination of great music, great acting and a heartwarming storyline make this musical one of the best in the West End and I imagine it will continue for many years.
A super show - highly recommended! 5/5
Summary: A wonderful production in the West End!