Billy Elliot celebrates its tenth anniversary in the West End this year, and yet to my surprise I’ve never seen it, even though I enjoyed the original movie and love a good musical. So here are ten reasons why you (and I) should check out Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre this year.
1. The Dancing:
Billy Elliot is about a boy who stumbles into a ballet class and discovers he’d much rather learn that than boxing, despite what his family and friends might think. For the audience, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of ballet or not - you have to admire the skill of the young stars playing Billy, and enjoy their passion for what they do.
2. It’s British!
The show is set in a northern mining town in County Durham, England, and this location is crucial to the story. Writer Lee Hall hails from that part of the world himself, and knows how it feels to be a young man expected to follow one path in life and yet desperate to do something different.
3. The Music:
After seeing the film at Cannes, apparently it was Elton John himself who first suggested it could be turned into a musical, and then went on to write the score. It includes elements of everything from folk music to rock and roll, and having watched a few YouTube videos, I’m probably going to be singing "Solidarity" for the rest of the day…
4. Ruthie Henshall:
One of the first ladies of musical theatre, who’s appeared in Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Chicago, among many others, is currently starring in Billy Elliot as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson. The Olivier award winning actress apparently had early ambitions to be a ballet dancer herself, so this role is a perfect return to the stage for her after a few years away.
5. The Politics:
Like the recently departed Made in Dagenham, Billy Elliot is set against a backdrop of real events, in this case the miners’ strike of 1984-5. This means Billy’s personal struggle to become a dancer becomes representative of a much larger fight, exploring the politics of the time; there’s even a song about Margaret Thatcher. I can only imagine what overseas audiences have made of that.
6. The Comedy:
I remember from watching the movie that Billy Elliot is one of those stories that can make you laugh and cry. Despite the difficult times ahead, there’s plenty of comedy to be had, not least from Mrs Wilkinson’s ‘tough love’ approach to teaching, and the consternation of Billy’s macho male family in the face of his dream.
7. The Message:
The heart of this show is about being true to yourself, no matter what people think. Billy faces opposition from his father and brother, who believe dancing isn’t something a man should do. So his perseverance and ultimate success are an inspiration to anyone afraid to pursue their passion for fear of ridicule.
8. The Reviews:
The Telegraph described Billy Elliot as ‘the greatest British musical I have ever seen’, while the New York Post called it ‘the best show you will ever see’ and Time Out said it was ‘extraordinary’ and ‘thrilling’. Those are some pretty ringing endorsements.
Other Billy Elliot Reviews:
★★★★★ “A dazzling spectacle of dance, tears and laughter” Daily Mail
★★★★★ “Truly electrifying” Mail on Sunday
★★★★★ “Marvellous British musical” Time Out
★★★★★ “Triumphant production” Daily Telegraph
★★★★★ “Pure magic” Sunday Express
9. The Realism:
The show doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything; despite all their optimism and cries of solidarity, the miners’ strike still fails, even as Billy succeeds. And, like in the original film, there’s plenty of swearing, which might make the show unsuitable for young children, or the easily offended - but fortunately, I’m neither of those things.
10. The Sheer Numbers:
Billy Elliot the musical has been seen by over 9.5 million people worldwide since it first opened in London in 2005. There have been productions in Australia, the States, South Korea and the Netherlands, among other countries. And the show’s won countless awards during its ten years, including five Olivier awards for the Billly Elliot London production. You can’t argue with numbers like that!
Well, I’m convinced. How about you?