Many of us will have seen the movie; Jamie Bell being just brilliant. Well, the long running musical of Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre presented another wonderfully talented young dancer and actor, Matteo Zecca. The musical centres around young Billy who wants to escape from his mining community, which is suffering due to the Thatcher government, and discovers a controversial electric talent for ballet.
I was immensely excited about going to see the musical, I had heard about the talent of the dancers, young and old, yes, Grandma has a little dance too, and I was not disappointed… on the whole. By this I merely make reference the odd occasions when I felt like Billy Elliot the musical had taken a trip to Hollywood, there was a touch too much glitz and razzmatazz (and other nouns with z’s in them). This I thought was a little grating against the other humble parts of the show which demonstrated so well the difficulty of living in a poor mining community. There were Punch and Judy-esque jokes that were clearly aimed at the young audience which, for me, did nothing but make me aware that I was watching an all-singing-all-dancing musical and distracted me from the story.
These minor points aside, which are perfectly reasonable choices made to entertain a wide ranging audience, I very much enjoyed the show. What I found particularly successful was the considered juxtaposition of the miserable darkness of the mining strikes and the light and spirited ballet lessons. Such a contrast was used very well in some wonderfully choreographed scenes where boiler-suited middle aged miners slipped in and out of beautiful balletic dancing with the perky little ballerinas. There were some quietly elegant dancers hidden amongst the miners, not to mention the very capable Mr Braithewaite who gave us all a surprise. I found the performance of the Grandma a little too pantomime-like, but I think that many others in the audience loved her, otherwise, the Elliot family were well acted and danced, or rather, not danced; I very much enjoyed the performance of Chris Grahamson as Tony. He was, very fittingly, not as technical a dancer as many others in the cast, but this was perfect. I would have found it very odd if Tony were a brilliant dancer as he is so against boys dancing at the start of the musical; according to him, it clearly makes a boy a ‘pufta.’ His character was therefore accurately judged.
Now to Billy, sweet yet fiery, Billy. This role was played wonderfully by youngster Matteo Zecca; he was absolutely the star of the show, and quite right too! He managed to cover those important character traits that persuaded us to love him; he was sweet towards his Grandma and his extravagant, cross dressing, best friend Michael, yet also conquered the spiky side of Billy with his typically ‘Elliot’ attitude and language bursts. Having only been dancing for three years, Matteo was confident and I brimmed with pride as I watched him complete the iconic spin! (I wish I knew the actual term, all I know was that it was bloody marvellous!) My favourite scene, and absolutely one to look forward to if you are a dance fan, is the dance between the younger and the older Billy Elliot. Older Billy was played by Barnaby Meredith, who attended the Royal Ballet school, yes, the one that our fictional Billy aspires to go to. They mirrored each other, they danced together, and it was so well done and had an inspiringly ambitious amount of content. I felt utterly indulged. I then couldn’t help but try and spot Meredith later in the musical doubling up as a very waif-like miner, which quite rightly, didn’t happen. (They’re professionals down there in Victoria!)
If you have seen it, then I hope you enjoyed it as I did. You get just what you expect; the bleakness of mining alongside bundles of comic relief, accompanied throughout with great dancing and great singing which will set your forearms bursting with goosebumps. I will now be practising my pirouettes in my bedroom.