Liam Rudden: Ballet and boxing do mix after all

Billy Elliot The Musical

Billy Elliot The Musical

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Okay, I admit it, I was wrong. For years I avoided going to see Billy Elliot. Working class lad swaps boxing gloves for ballet pumps and wins a place at prestigious ballet school. Such a cliché. Triumph in the face of adversity and all that.

So, having managed to dodge the movie for the last 16 years and declined numerous invitations to see the ‘Smash Hit’ musical ahead of its arrival in Edinburgh, the crunch came on Tuesday when I found myself sitting in Row L of The Playhouse.

I was not expecting much. Never been a fan of hype. And Billy Elliot just, well, reeked of it, or so I thought. Like I said, I was wrong.

Miners versus Thatcher, the downtrodden working class rebelling against the heartless face of rampant Capitalism. It had all been done before.

But then the curtain rose... and for the next two hours and 50 minutes I found myself laughing, crying, and joining in with a series of ridiculously catchy choruses - still can’t quite get ‘Solidaritee. Soldaritee. Solidaritee Foreva’ out of my head.

Every song has a hook and, cleverly, sounds vaguely familiar, drawing on instantly recognisable themes, whether it be a nod to an old Fosse musical, a hymn, a Christmas hit or, more blatantly, Swan Lake.

Perhaps what surprised most was the truth with which the production has been imbued. It is unapologetically political, as all the best theatre is, and without preaching tells its story warts and all.

The miners strike of 1984/5 was a brutal chapter in history and that is reflected in the language of the piece.

Four letter words fly freely and reflect the anger and desperation of the time, while a couple of wonderfully funny laugh-out-loud one-liners restored my faith in commercial theatre’s ability to eschew the bland demands of political correctness.

In truth, though, what makes this production work more than anything else is a cast that ‘believes’ and a nine-piece band that sets the pitch- perfect tone of each scene. A big sound for a big show. There’s not a weak link.

Of course, having discovered this, I’m now dealing with the ‘I told you so’ quips, but, to be honest, I don’t mind. In fact, don’t tell anyone, but I’m heading back to see it again.

I seldom do that, even Wicked couldn’t tempt me back a second time.

Actually that was another musical I’d been dreading, but on that occasion I was right - two divas screeching at each other for nearly three hours left me losing the will to live. Needless to say, everybody else loved it.

Now all I have to do is get over my loathing of Alice in Wonderland before the Lyceum tackle The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland for Christmas, followed in quick succession by the premiere of Wonderland, at The Playhouse.

Torture, sheer torture, I tell you, although the latter does boast Wendi Peters, Dave Willetts and Kerry Ellis leading the cast.

That might just swing it.