This is my personal review of the Billy Elliot Musical. If you have not yet seen the Musical or the movie and plan on enjoying it in the future, please do not read further. This text contains spoilers.
Yesterday I went to see the Billy Elliot Musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre, which was quite an experience. Let me start with the venue. The Theatre itself is a very beautiful and old building, from the inside as well as the outside. We had tickets on the Dress Circle, which is on the upper level. The seats had a very good view on the stage, not exactly in the centre but a bit to the right. I tried to take some pictures, but the lightning conditions were unfavourable.
I have seen the movie several times (though never the ending), so I knew what the story was about and I had some expectations. I have to say that what we witnessed was completely different from my expectations and it left me speechless at parts. Unfortunately, not in a very positive way.
The show started out nice enough, introducing Billy and his neighbourhood and the general setting of the story, in the middle of the miners’ strike in 1984. In the first half, there were already quite a few comical aspects to the story that I found odd. The girls in the ballet class are all frilly girls who can’t dance but giggle and scream with high pitched voices. Billy has a best friend who cross-dresses and quite obviously is gay. This is however portrayed so extravagantly that it just seems ridiculous (huge, man-sized dresses dancing around them in a glittery rain).
During the short break, I discussed what we’ve seen so far with my neighbours. We were all not really sure what to make of it yet. I liked the music and the dancing in general. The singing wasn’t particularly enchanting, but I always love parts when there is polyphonic singing and choirs.
The second part started off with a Christmas party. Everybody was hopping around in elf costumes or as Father Christmas. The little girls were angels with glittering wings. The whole lot was singing “Merry Christmas, Margaret Thatcher”. While I know who she was and what the scene was supposed to tell me, it was just too much for me. I watched flabbergasted. They had puppets which showed the fight between police and miners and a huuuuuuge Margaret Thatcher puppet wobbling around in the background. For a minute I thought I was in the wrong show. But then Billy showed up and I sadly realised that this was part of it…
There were some more nice scenes in the second part and Billy had some astounding and fantastic dance solos. And yes, I laughed at some of the jokes as well. But as my friend pointed out later, it was pretty predictable. The dialogue between Billy’s father and the father of another auditioning boy for example: miner versus wealthy upper class man. They each had problems understanding the other man’s accent, pretending they got it and then asking “Pardon? What?”
At the audition was another ridiculed gay man, some helper who took care of the music and who walked with those “typical” gay gestures. Yes, very funny, haha. Maybe I really don’t know much about the time and society at that time, but it saddened and angered me to see that the “gays” in the show were there for pure amusement and had no depth to them. The same applies for the grandmother. I remember that in the movie she is encouraging Billy because she herself wanted to be a dancer once. In the Musical, she was pretty much just a doddering old woman who ate moulded pastries.
The show ends with Billy going away to the Royal Ballet School. It does not show what he accomplishes as it does in the movie (apparently, because I never saw that part). I believe it is somehow implied in the second half when Billy dances with an older version of himself during practise. Like a vision of what he might become. It also ends with him giving a kiss to his best friend, which is completely weird because Billy is NOT gay. This however leaves the spectator with the image of “all ballet boys are/become gay”.
So in summary I can say I was not satisfied with the show. I acknowledge the overall performance and respectfully raise my hat to the young actor who played Billy. It is simply amazing what he did and does. Dancing, singing and acting for almost 3 hours straight and that at the age of thirteen. We were privileged to see his premiere performance in London, as he had only recently come over from Broadway.
I am very glad that I saw it nonetheless. It was an experience and I daresay I won’t forget it. Not all musicals can appeal to all spectators. And now I will rewatch Billy Elliot the movie for the fourth time and finally see the ending as well. It has been two years since I last saw it and it might just be that my memory betrays me and the movie is not as serious as I remember it. Maybe the show is not as far from the movie as I believe. I hope that this review does not discourage anybody to see the Musical. Most people I talked to loved it and would gladly go and see it again and I have to stress that I wasn’t completely disappointed. It is still a nice show to watch and particularly the setting was very impressive.