A Brief History Of Billy Elliot

Posted on 9 April 2016

With the closure of Billy Elliot the Musical this weekend, I thought I would take a look back at the history of the show, and take a look at what’s next! 

The original movie of Billy Elliot was released in 2000, and when, in 2004, Elton John originally proposed turning the low-budget film into a musical, Lee Hall (who wrote the screenplay) thought it was “the worst idea in the world”, but went to New York to discuss it with Elton John regardless. Though he was at first shocked to discover that Elton John wanted him to write the lyrics for the show, he agreed. Once they had decided to actually make the show, they faced the added problem of content - due to the fact that Billy Elliot has the gritty and truthful backdrop of the 1984/5 miners’ strike, they were very conscious that ‘dancing miners’ might look a bit mocking - in 2012, Lee Hall said “As much as I admire the Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff, that’s not what we wanted to make - that had been done. It seemed that it was time to do something else, and the problem is dancing miners - how do you do dancing miners? This could be twee, it could be awful!” To overcome this challenge, the creative team took inspiration from radical ‘60s director, Joan Littlewood. They wanted to follow in her footsteps, and create politically engaged and emotionally accessible theatre that was still a fun night out. I’d say they pretty much hit the nail on the head, wouldn’t you?

Since it opened at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 2005, Billy Elliot has gone on to become a modern classic - winning ‘Best New Musical’ and ‘Best Musical’ at the Olivier Awards and Tony Awards respectively. It has been performed all across the globe, from London to Broadway to Australia to Sweden to Italy, gathering a grand total of 55 awards worldwide. In 2014, the show was screened live from it’s home at the Victoria Palace Theatre to over 500 cinemas in the UK and further afield, allowing a much wider audience to see the show - including a group of people who gathered in the Easington Social Centre (formerly the Colliery Miners’ Institute) in Easington, Durham, where the movie was originally filmed!

Despite the fact that the London production of Billy Elliot has come to a close, it still lives on elsewhere - throughout 2016 and 2017 there is a UK tour, a Malmö production in 2016, and a 2017 Stockholm production, as well as a 2015-17 Italian tour. 

I first saw Billy Elliot as the live 2014 recording on a plane to New York, so now when I hear ‘Solidarity’ I can’t help but think about plane food! What’s your favourite memory of Billy Elliot? Tweet us @theatre_direct and @ohmymusicals and let us know!