Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Billy Elliot

On New Years' Day Eve, I went to see Billy Elliot with Martin and his youngest daughter.
Something in  my brain always chimes 'Silly Idiot'. Got to get over that!

I loved the film and was looking forward to this as my Champagne Friend said it was brilliant.

I felt that it took a while to get going: I had a lot of trouble with the Geordie accents which made the dialogue impossible to understand as the cast seemed to have mouthfuls of turf on occasion (surely there are enough good Geordie performers to have the genuine article in this show- it seemed incredibly lazy to cast Irish, Scottish and Home Counties actors and dancers!).
I didn't much like the dancing police and miners either, particularly after the violence of the 2010 Student Demonstrations: it seemed trite because these demonstrations, whether miners, printers, students, anti-war or countryside alliance, are serious and mean a lot to people.
However once the plot got going, the show acquired an exciting momentum: the little girl ballet dancers were great. Each one had their own 'dancer-personality', which was a good detail (but I felt sorry for the 'fat' one. What a horrible role to play!), and they were very well choreographed. Billy's gay and cross-dressing (or at least, confused) friend was a power-pack of showbiz energy and I can imagine him going far professionally. The brother and dad were convincing and their roles built up throughout the show.
By far the best part was the duet danced between the young Billy (who by this time has shown us that he was an extremely talented young dancer) and the older Billy, a 'proper' ballet dancer. It was oddly touching to see a grown man dance a duet with a boy child; it was not a sexual thing, it was just extremely tender and beautiful, and showed off the dancers' talents to a tee. What a rare thing to see, just  a beautifully worked out passage of dance between two males, that matched the challenges of the choreography to the considerable skills of the dancers.
Overall, I could see why it was so popular. The subject-matter does have a certain currency and the cast are really talented, especially as dancers of not only show-dancing but ballet and tap as well.
However, some of the dialogue was lazy: it wasn't necessary to be 'non-PC' to evoke the early eighties, for instance. There was a lot of swearing, which I didn't mind, but as a package with other aspects of the script, I thought it could have done with a bit of sharp editing.
Finally, there wasn't one memorable song. This was partly uninspired song writing (and I do understand how difficult it is to create music that can be danced to and sung), but also the fact that some of the songs were clearly out of the range of the people singing them, and did not allow them to belt them out or put emotion into them. I think this is really important! A musical that has such an interesting subject at its heart should have longevity, and that comes about through great songs that people can't resist singing, covering, you name it.
There was not one song like that in this show.

Verdict: Well, Martin's daughter absolutely loved it. She had been in a school production, and of course, she comes from the North East and it has a lot of resonance for her. She loves theatre and performs as well as going to see a lot of stuff. So my feeling is that I am too damn fussy about what I expect from a musical! People in front of us were crying unconsolably at the sad bits; I think my disappointment with the music affected what I thought of the whole thing.
Ultimately, I have never seen such good child dancers before: hats off to the Billy, the 'Billy's friend', and the little girls in tutus. Their dancing was perfect and beautiful to watch. I can recommend going to see this show on that basis alone, whether or not you have seen the film.

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