Tuesday, February 02, 2016

BILLY ELLIOT at Victoria Palace.... yes, I finally gave in!

It's only taken 11 years...
I tend not to see shows that hang around for years - to be honest none of the shows I like seem to be the hanging-around type.  I think it's also difficult to fully appreciate a show if you see it in it's nth year, shows can develop a run-of-the-mill quality with the original magic spark lost in numerous cast changes and resident director touch-ups.

I was fully expecting that with BILLY ELLIOT - I assumed it's much vaunted choreography would consist of a half-hearted leap here, an arm waved in the air there.  How wrong could I be?  Peter Darling's choreography was wonderfully kinetic and lively and a lot of that was down to our BILLY on the night, Euan Garrett who in the dance routines was a spinning, leaping and back-flipping delight.

So what took me so long?  I guess a love of the film which I have seen countless times allied to a general dislike of Elton John,  However the news that it was due to close in April and Owen asking for the dvd of the film for Xmas made me do the booking thing.

I haven't been in the Victoria Palace for years - more than 11 obviously - so I had forgotten how nice it is inside with room to roam in the theatre bars and with an impressive open auditorium - it's a shame this Frank Matcham-designed theatre doesn't have a bigger profile.  I was also surprised how busy it was!

But what of the show?  As I said I certainly enjoyed it for it's dynamic choreography and for the central performance of Euan Garrett but what really surprised me was how totally nondescript Elton John's score was.  For someone who has written the odd memorable tune in the (distant) past it was a bit odd that on leaving the theatre I couldn't remember one of the 13 songs in the score.

What I came out humming was Lee Hall's book as it lifted whole scenes out of his original film script.  Only with added swear words - make that a lot of swear words.  Now I am no prude but even I got fed up with the swearing, only there to 'shock' the audience with a kid saying "bastard" for the 100th time.  It all seemed a bit broad with certain characters becoming cyphers - Deka Walmsley's Mr. Elliot goes from being an unloving man to a bit of a lovable klutz in the course of one scene.

Ruthie Henshall played the dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson with less gritty realism than gritted teeth; I think her inherent teeth, tits & tonsils style was at odds with Mrs Wilkinson's dogged manner.  A character who has been built up is Michael, the not-so-secretly gay friend of Billy which was winningly played by Nathan Jones and who made the most of a big dance number with Billy where they are joined by giant dancing dresses.  Believe me, it ain't subtle.

Another surprise was how much it wore it's anti-Thatcher views on it's sleeve, not that I'm complaining, mind!  It was certainly more overt than the film and one of the more stirring moments of the show was towards the end when, as Billy leaves for a life of dance in London, his dad and his brother sing their way back to the pit, the auditorium and Billy illuminated in the dark by the torches from their mining helmets - defeated but unbowed.

As I said Peter Darling's choreography for Billy was quite wonderful and in particular the dream ballet between Billy and his older dancer self was quite breathtaking and Rick Fisher's lighting was also great in the dance sequences, creating areas on the stage to contain the dance.

Would I recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it at the VP or on it's upcoming UK tour?  Yes I would, for the choreography and for Stephen Daldrey's production... just don't expect to be buying the cast recording.

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