“When the stars look down and know our history”
And what history there is to behold – a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliot the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre.
That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience – and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game.
Billy Elliot on stage for the first time or coming to it as one of its many devoted fans, there’s much to enjoy in Lee Hall’s book about a Geordie lad who just wants to dance whilst the mining community around him is severely tested and Elton John’s stellar score which folds in so many traditions of English music yet never forgets to be goosebumpingly powerful as it advances the story. Stephen Daldry’s inventive production is well served by Ian MacNeil’s design which has plenty of surprises up its sleeve but also allows the expansiveness needed for Peter Darling’s choreography to take centre stage, as delivered so wonderfully by an exuberant company.
Directed by Brett Sullivan, the live film captures much of what makes Billy such a successful show but also uses some innovative camera angles to mix things up (the bird’s eye view is particularly good) and show us things that might have otherwise passed us by. The kick of emotion that shakes Ruthie Henshall’s body as Elliott Hanna’s Billy delivers the killer punchline at the end of ‘The Letter’ (simply beautifully sung by them with Claudia Bradley); the anguish written on Deka Walmsley’s face as his brow-beaten Dad is battered from all sides whilst trying to do the right thing; the fierce concentration on Hanna’s face from his opening pirouettes to the showman-confidence of the rousing tap-dancing finale.
And nodding to that history mentioned earlier, there’s a gorgeous moment mid-show as one of the first boys to play Billy in 2005 returns to the cast as ‘Older Billy’ in one of the iconic dance sequences. Seeing the dancer Liam Mower has become is a thrill in itself, even before the touching interaction with Elliott Hanna’s current Billy begins and their take on Swan Lake is beautiful. The finale which features 22 such returning Billys joining the 3 boys then sharing the role is just the icing on the cake, offering a genuine celebration of the joy of dance, demonstrating the nurturing potential of this show for some serious theatrical talent and celebrating one of British theatre’s finest achievements in Billy Elliot the Musical.