On the 12th of January I was lucky enough to visit Manchester Palace Theatre with my mum and two friends to watch Billy Elliot the musical. If you haven’t watched the film (why not?!) you really should – it is one of the most uplifting, feel good films I’ve seen; even despite the parallel story of the mine closures. For those who haven’t seen it, Billy Elliot is the story of a young boy growing up in a North East mining town in the 80s with a penchant for ballet.
The story has been adapted for the stage and an extra emphasis put on dance and music – as you would expect. Even with these changes the emotion and turmoil of the miners story still came through, although I do think there was a little bit of shock value with the amount of swearing (slightly uncomfortable when sat next to a vicar!). All the best lines from the film are still in there, but it has more joy and expression to it in my opinion. If you have the chance to go and see it I would highly recommend it
As you are not allowed to take photos in the theatre all my images have been found online.
Billy’s story is one of a boy growing up without a mum in a very male dominated world, so the portrayal of his conversations with his mum’s ghost certainly got me a little misty eyed. And actually I think the father’s grief for his wife was more aptly portrayed on stage than it was in the film.
The best part for me however was seeing the characters freedom to be who they are and the eventual acceptance of their loved ones. Michael, Billy’s best friend, plays a very camp gay little boy (I assume he’s gay he was in the film) who experiments with cross dressing. This made for a wonderful musical number with dancing dresses, tap dancing and a distinct cabaret feel. I loved every minute!
A huge part of the feel of the film, and explanation of the culture in which Billy was raised, was the story of the mine strike, the ‘scabs’ who continued to work and the pressure it put on the community and individual families. It wasn’t as prominent in the stage show but knowing the original story you certainly got a feel for what they were trying to portray.
Directly after the interval was a scene depicting the miner’s Christmas party. Having been on strike for almost a year they sang the song Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher. I understand the relevance and that at the time of the miner’s strikes the feeling would have been high, but wishing death on someone still makes me feel rather uncomfortable, even if that person is already dead.
My favourite part of the film is the big finale where Jackie (Billy’s Dad) sits teary eyed in the stalls while Billy performs in Swan Lake ballet, so I was somewhat disappointed when the finale of the stage show was a cabaret number. Especially after earlier in the show there was a moving ballet scene with an incredible male ballet dancer who could have easily played the role. The show however ended with Billy leaving for ballet school rather than his first major performance, so it was apt to include the entire cast in the final number even if it wasn’t personally what I would have chosen.
While the musical was wonderful and I would happily go and see it again, it felt a bit like watching a film after you had read the book; enjoyable but not quite what you imagined. Being a story about ballet I perhaps expected there to be a bit more ballet in there.