Bristol Hippodrome

Billy Elliot the Musical

October-November 2016

Cygnet from a coal black era

In the beginning a small bairn struts through the stalls and onto the stage with a huge ghetto blaster balanced on his shoulders and with his back to the audience he wiggles his bum in a twerking movement – the scene is set and welcome to Billy Elliot.

The small bairn with a shrill voice is actually played by a little girl!

Turning the aspirations of one young boy to dance against the background of the 1980s miners’ strike into a musical is some feat and yet this tour de force remembers with a real blast from the past a country divided by class and politics which pitted brother against brother, father against son.

You can draw parallels with the Brexit vote but this is far more bloody.

Set in a County Durham mining village we follow motherless Billy as he moves from boxing ring to ballet class fighting along the way ingrained macho prejudice against boys dancing.

This was a time when our newspapers were dominated by pictures of vicious battles between police and miners mixed with amusing anecdotes of the left-leaning Notting Hill set sending food parcels of brown sugar and lentils to their impoverished northern comrades.

It was when rights affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people were in the dark ages.

This ballsy ballet full of blasphemous anti-Thatcher rhetoric in the style of Spitting Image puppetry captures that time beautifully if not always prettily.

Behind the offensive riot shields and thick fog of cigarette smoke is a funny cross-dressing story to compete with Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

It is a political fairy tale full of one-liners and rude words which uses symbolic shadows - especially the emotional duet with his grown-up self -  and coal-black tutu-clad 'swans' all adding to the dramatic effect.

You gulp, giggle and gasp but apart from the dead mother’s lament the song lyrics aren’t that memorable but the dance is mind-blowing.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the show but here are some of my best bits while trying not to spoil this must-see spectacular which is at the Bristol Hippodrome for a month.

Grown men trying to do ‘nutcracker’ splits, the mishmash of sizes and shapes in the junior corps de ballet, the frustration and anger of Billy tossing back his bedclothes and turning his iron bedstead upright to tap dance like a wild caged animal - I'll stop here but there are many more.

The dad (Game of Thrones and soap actor Martin Walsh), brother Tony (Scott Garnham from Les Misérables), gran (musical star Andrea Miller), dance teacher (stage star Annette McLaughlin), polytechnic academic dance pianist Mr Braithwaite (Daniel Page), gender non-specific BFF Michael (Lancashire lad Henry Farmer, aged 10), are all amazing.

At the end the audience stood as one to applaud after a show-stopping sparkling grand finale.

Eleven-year-old Bath schoolboy Haydn May, pictured with boxing gloves, glides, slides and flies in the title role and bewilders his dance tutor when he chooses a ‘packet of cuppa soup, plastic Klingon from Star Trek and a tin of baked beans’ as items which inspire his pirouettes, prances and foot-tapping moves.

The style-de-mode of the costumes is mostly charity shop chic and the set has roll on and roll off rooms with big red curtains representing the Royal Ballet School.

The atmospheric lighting especially in the men going back-to-work down the coal mine scene is amazingly moving.

It is more ‘full-on’ than the film although I remember the pint-size person asking Billy ‘do you want to see my fanny’ but be warned there are many more f-words than the 2000 film starring a young Jamie Bell as Billy and Julie Walters as his ballet teacher.

Billy Elliot the Musical has now been seen by nearly 11 million people across five continents and has won more than 80 international awards.

It is written by Lee Hall, directed by Stephen Daldry with choreographer Peter Darling and music by Elton John and Tchaikovsky.

Portishead resident Alison Walker said: "Who would have thought a storyline set against the background of the miners strike in a small village in the North East of England could bring every emotion to the fore, but it does.

"It contains prejudice , bigotry, humour ,love ,grief, frustration, hope and joy.

"What a fantastic combination and all about a boy falling a falling in love with ballet.

"The Billy leading the Wednesday night production gives a stand out performance with a strong but believable vulnerability.

"The ballet section is fabulous.

"The cast of this production give passionate performances and the prejudice during this time of political upheaval is almost tangible .

"This is the best night of entertainment where you will laugh, cry , jump for joy at this briliant show."

The show runs until Saturday, November 26, with tickets from £22.

Review: Carol Deacon

Photos: Alastair Muir

Billy Elliot at Bristol Hippodrome

PREVIEW: This most be one of Bristol's most anticipated productions - Billy Elliot arrives at the Hippodrome at the end of October.

Most of us saw the film but many have yet to see it on stage so to be coming to a theatre near us is fantastic news.

What do I know so far? Well when editor of the Clevedon Mercury the then production manager chose tickets to the West End show to mark his long service with the award-winning newspaper.

Stuart Richards came back from seeing the show and said: "Loved it but it is very political - much more than the film."

Well Stuart it does have a backdrop of the miners strike in the Thatcher era.

And my nephew had a friend from school who starred at Billy in London so I heard all about the intensive rehearsals.

The four boys who will play the title role in the first ever UK and Ireland tour of the iconic musical are Adam Abbou, aged 12 of Liverpool;  Matthew Lyons, 11 of Leeds; Haydn May, also 11 of  Bath and 12-year-old Lewis Smallman, of West Bromwich.

The boys were cast following nationwide auditions and after months of rehearsals began alternating in the role following the show’s opening earlier in the year. 

Billy Elliot the musical opens at the Bristol Hippodrome on Tuesday, October 25, and runs until Saturday, November 26.

Adam trained at Nazene Danielle’s Dance Dynamix and has competed in various regional and national dance championships.

He has previously appeared as Jerome in South Pacific and Nibs in Peter Pan  both at the Liverpool Empire.

Matthew trained at the West Yorkshire School of Performing Arts and has previously appeared in Matthew Bourne’s production of Lord Of The Flies at the Bradford Alhambra.

Haydn trained at the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing and is a member of Tap Attack in Swindon and the Bristol Hawks Gymnastics Club.

He has appeared as Chip in Beauty And The Beast, Munchkin in The Wizard Of Oz and Michael in Peter Pan, all at the Theatre Royal, Bath.

Lewis trained at Arabesque Dance Academy and Renaissance Arts.

He has appeared in the English Youth Ballet’s Swan Lake and as Kurt in The Sound Of Music at Sutton Town Hall.

He is also a keen gymnast with Sandwell Flyers Gymnastic Academy.

Adam, Matthew, Haydn and Lewis will be joined by Henry Farmer, 10 of Lancashire; Elliot Stiff , nine, of Sunderland; and Samuel Torpey, also nine of Manchester who all alternate the role of Billy’s best friend Michael.

Joining them will be 10-year-olds Lilly Cadwallender, of  Hartlepool; Evie Martin, of Middlesbrough; and Italia Ross, of Hartlepool) who all alternate the role of Debbie.

The adults are played by stage star Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson, dramatic actor with a Games of Throne credit on his CV Martin Walsh as Dad, West End trouper Scott Garnham as Tony and musical star Andrea Miller as 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.

Set in a northern mining town, against the background of the 1984/-85 miners’ strike, Billy’s journey takes him out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family and whole community and changes his life forever.

Acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, Billy Elliot the Musical has now been seen by nearly 11 million people across five continents and is the recipient of more than 80 international awards.

In total, worldwide, 90 boys have now played the iconic role of Billy Elliot on stage.

In May last year, Billy Elliot the Musical celebrated its 10th birthday at the West End’s Victoria Palace Theatre where it will play its final performance on 9 April 2016 after 4,600 performances when the theatre closes for refurbishment.

Billy Elliot the Musical is brought to life by the multiple award-winning creative team behind the film including writer Lee Hall, director Stephen Daldry, and choreographer, Peter Darling.

Superstar Elton John 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.

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