Sunday, 25 August 2013

Closer to Home

I saw Billy Elliot for the first time in July.  I was treated to this show by a dear friend of mine - thanks Sophia! I'd already known a fair bit about Billy Elliot; a boy whose inspiration is to dance, comes from a working class family and the story happens amidst the miners strike in 1984/85.  I remembered the strike when growing up and how the impact it had on families and communities.  Some family friends' friends were miners and I remember some communities provided food parcels for the miners and their families.  Even as a child I knew from that point forward the strike changed some of the things forever.

Anyway, back to Billy Elliot! The musical opened in 2005 and based on the said title of the movie which was released in 2000.  The movie was written by Lee Hall and he wrote the lyrics for the music Elton John composed.  Hall discussed how he took the working class cultures and traditions in account when he was writing this musical.  I saw this reflected in Ian MacNeil's sets on the stage.

The messages raised in the musical were the political and economic issues which the miners and their families were experiencing and also the battles they faced.  Hall termed this as the Civil War between the government and the miners (source: Official Website).  In addition there was the impact on the livelihoods of the miners' families in the communities and the town's industrial heritage as well as its unique culture.  This was reflected in the musical hits Solidarity and Merry Christmas, Maggie ThatcherBilly Elliot projected the so called North and South divide and the contrasts of cultural attitudes and expectations.  I've observed during the scene when Billy went to audition at the Royal Opera House with his father. 

Many live in similar circumstances.  Some unwillingly have this pessimistic feeling about the future over a number things especially with the government's aims with economic policy and the impact this may have on the individual and in the community.

Not all is lost, Billy endured a lot of struggles such as losing his mother and the family struggled financially because of the strike.  The musical foretold how Billy demonstrated optimism through his passion for dancing and how this would affect his life from that point forward.  His dream inspired his family, despite their reservations at first, and how this spread across his community and not forgetting the spirit of his mother.

The pursuing of the dream was projected beautifully with incredible stage dancing, Expressing Yourself, Angry Dance, He Could be a Star and Born to Boogie.  All the musical numbers were choreographed nicely with the cast members' performances and the talented Tade Biesinger's acting, dancing and singing.  This is a big thanks to Peter Darling's choreography and the overall direction by Stephen Daldry.

Lee Hall discussed how one, whatever background one is from, can discover creativity through expression of the arts.  He stated that one is capable of 'finding moments of real profundity and creativity whatever our circumstances' (source: Official Website).  Arthur Scargill, Leader of National Union of Mineworkers, was quoted by Hall saying that society needs to be creative and members to make time to fulfill one's talents and interests especially with the arts and cultural interests (source: Official Website).  I think this is positive and not view life as pessimistic with being bogged down in a rut with a prescribed routine.  As Billy demonstrated through dance that it is possible to do anything you've set your mind on.

I can think of other theatre productions with parallel stories to Billy Elliot such as The Pitman Painters and Brassed Off.  As Scargill concluded one, like Mrs Wilkinson did on behalf of Billy, has to take the initiative to seek their creativity through the arts.  Going about it is not as easy done than said (source: Official Website).

Seeing this musical has made me appreciate the social and political context and how one can fulfill one's potential despite what is happening in their lives.  I enjoyed the member of casts performances including Kevin Watken (Tony), Anna-Janice Casey (Mrs Wilkinson), Ann Emery (Grandmother) and Howard Crossley (George) whose charismatic presence on stage reminded of a family friend who lives in the North East of England.  I especially enjoyed seeing Simon Ray Harvey (Mr Braithwaite) who I saw in Love Never Dies a couple of years ago.

The variety of music used in the score was wonderful. It was nice to have seen Tchaikovsky music played during the 'Swan Lake' scene when Billy visualised himself as a future professional dancer.

I could spend hours discussing other messages raised from Billy Elliot but I won't.  Due to the nature and context of the show, explicit language is used and advice needs to be sought from the box office if this is an issue to you.  Still the musical is highly recommendable and it won the Olivier's Audience Award in 2013.  Definitely a highlight on my trip! For further information here is the official website.

No comments:

Post a Comment