It takes a lot to make me cry. I could count on one hand the number of shows I have seen which have brought me to actual tears in a theatre. Billy Elliot is now one of them. In fact, watching this show was the most emotional I have ever been in a theatre. (I’m not just getting at a little sniffle and watery eyes; I’m talking about tears pouring down my face emotion). Awkward. Except it wasn’t, because I was aware that every other theatregoer within my radius was also struggling to keep it together.
That’s a good thing, right? It means everyone was so engrossed that they were completely touched by the story. I know I certainly was. Billy Elliot was everything I imagined it would be and more. The story (which I had known was going to be emotional) was also balanced with a good proportion of comedic and heart-warming moments which were perfectly timed so that when the lights came on in the interval and at the end of the show we were not a group of blubbing, inconsolable wrecks, as I imagine the majority of the audience had been, fifteen minutes earlier.
This show is famous for its dancing numbers and poignant storyline of a boy who wants to be a ballet dancer to the horror and disapproval of his father. Other characters include his equally unsupportive older brother, Mrs Wilkinson; his dance teacher, and his friend Michael Caffrey, who assures Billy that it’s okay to be different and encourages his dancing.
I had been trying to see this show for a few years, but unfortunately I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time! So when I heard that it was playing at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton and realised that I would actually be able to go, I jumped at the opportunity. I had decided that I wanted to see it on stage before watching the film, so I came with only a rough idea of the storyline and knowledge of a few songs and dance numbers. I knew it was going to be spectacular but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.
The dancing completely blew my mind, not only from the young boy that played Billy, who was absolutely stunning, but from the entire cast as well. The encore saw everybody perform an energetic tap number, displaying the huge amount of talent of the entire cast, not just the dancers. I particularly enjoyed Angry Dance, and of course the much anticipated Electricity. The level of energy coming from the stage throughout the show was infectious- I wanted to get up and join in!
This energy mixed with the hilarity from the comedic parts kept the show captivating and enjoyable, making the softer and more serious elements highly emotional. The show deals with some very emotionally packed, serious themes, which are emphasized because they are partly truthful, and they reflect a time and a place not too long ago where stuff like this was actually happening. The mining strikes of 1984/1985 really happened and will be remembered very well by some people. This was a time when issues like gender stereotyping and gay rights were still extremely sensitive areas. The fact that this was happening only about thirty years ago makes this story much more relatable and really hits home. If it hadn’t of been for the lighter areas of the story, I think this would have been a difficult show to watch.
I was particularly impressed by the set and lighting design. I don’t want to give too much away, but I had actually imagined that the set would be a lot simpler. There was a particular scene at the end of the song Expressing Yourself that really stood out to me for its clever and very effective staging. I was also most surprised by the way the lighting was used to bind the show together and tell the story. The use of elongated shadows and coloured lights set the mood for each scene and really added to the atmosphere. It was spectacular.
Billy Elliot is a truly inspiring story whose many themes include those about growing up and self-belief. The show sits close to home for a lot of people for a number of different reasons. I think because it is possible to identify with some aspect of the story in so many ways, there is a strong connection between the audience and the characters on stage. This story has truly touched me, and I know that this is the sort of show that no matter how many times I see it, I will still be as deeply moved as I was when I saw it for the first time.