BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL
Review by Tom Morris
As I went into Billy Elliot at the WMC, I asked my Nan, who I was with, what she thought about the two questions on my mind. That is; how would the play be better than the film, and is Billy supposed to be gay?
By the final curtain, these questions couldn’t be further from my mind. They were quite simply beside the point. For one, the musical IS better than the film- it makes full use of the medium. And asking whether Billy was gay? I feel ashamed to have done so. The play doesn’t state whether he is- the message is not to feel inclined to label each other as humans are wont to do- gay, straight, man, woman, working class, middle class, socialist, scab…
This is no happy go lucky play. It is, yes, but because it is told from the perspective of a young boy who is forever the optimist. Meanwhile, the country falls apart around him- it’s 1984, the winter of discontent. His mother’s dead, his father is having difficulty coping, while his brother is rapidly becoming a firebrand socialist in a country where that kind of ideology just isn’t cool anymore. Billy becomes the focus of all these characters, as he is transformed from a mere irritating little dependent to a source of inspiration, the only light in their lives as the lamps are turned off on their miners’ helmets.
There are several incredible songs. “Solidarity” is an early number, showing in jest the really rather serious showdowns between the police and miners. As both sides sing how they are “proud to be working class,” elsewhere in the lyrics neither can ignore the truth that this is a social schism which will not be healed for a long time: the policemen sing about their overtime at the picket lines, enabling them to send their kids to private school.
Billy’s father, then, shows incredible confidence in his son’s abilities as he sends him off to succeed at a middle-class profession, whilst he and the other miners ominously descend into the dark, cold ground once more- mirroring war scenes, the final number echoing male voice choirs as they sing “we all together when we go.” In the story they are returning to the mine, but the symbolism is obvious- a sad mix of unemployment and painful death awaits all of them.
The props are probably the most incredible thing. How would they remake the scene of the bus breaking the picket line? With a huge fence that spins round from one side of the scene to the other- I can’t seem to quite describe how it works in words, it’s so clever.
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the performance, though, is that it costs £62 a ticket and therefore isn’t going to be accessible to all- least of all students or its stars, the supposed working class. The money, however, is well spent.