This is a show that I had been meaning to see for a long time, so when it was announced that Ruthie Henshall would be taking over the role of Mrs Wilkinson the dance teacher, I knew I had to go as soon as possible. I managed to tag this show onto the end of my “Restricted West End” project and was seated on the front row (Row B, seat 25). The view from here is very restricted due to a high stage and I wouldn’t recommend it for a first time viewer – a lot of action happens at the back of the stage and you can’t see a thing. The theatre itself, however, is absolutely stunning, with a red and gold interior and a beautiful domed ceiling.
Our Billy for the night was Elliott Hanna and what a cracking little actor. He’s only 11 years old but the role was definitely safe in his hands; he was funny, confident, cheeky and an absolutely beautiful dancer. Zak Baker, who played his cross-dressing best friend Michael, was just something else. He had the entire audience in hysterics prancing and mincing around the stage and looked to be having an absolutely brilliant time.
Ruthie Henshall was, of course, absolutely incredible. I’ve waited eight years to see her perform live on stage and she was worth the wait. She did struggle slightly with the Geordie accent but this was only her second week of performances so I’m sure that will improve with time. Her dancing and singing, however, were extraordinary. She is a very talented woman and I was absolutely in awe of her throughout the entire show, even if she did have a couple of questionable costumes!
A personal highlight of the show was “Born to Boogie” performed by Billy, Mrs Wilkinson and Mr Braithwaite (David Muscat). In the film Billy Elliot you could blink and miss Mr Braithwaite but he is definitely the star of this scene. As Billy and Mrs Wilkinson are choreographing his routine for the Royal Ballet School audition Mr Braithwaite sits in the background playing the piano, then comes forward to help Billy with his form, and then all of a sudden rips off his top and pants to reveal a leotard and shorts and starts dancing around the stage. If this wasn’t brilliant enough the three then begin to skip with skipping ropes, whilst tap dancing at the same time! I can barely walk in a straight line at times so to see this kind of co-ordination was absolutely mind blowing, especially as not one of them missed a single step.
Deka Walmsley was absolutely stunning as Billy’s Dad. He was at a bit of a disadvantage to start with because Gary Lewis who plays Billy’s Dad in the original film is one of my favourite actors, but he completely floored me. The passion and emotion he put into that role makes me wonder how he can do it every night – his song “He Could Be a Star” reduced me to tears. I was completely enthralled watching this tough, imposing man break down into tears right in front of me – it takes a strong actor to draw the audience in like that. Similarly Claudia Bradley who plays “Dead Mum” (not the most flattering role title) was absolutely heart-breaking to watch. Her duet with Elliott Hanna “Dear Billy” was so pure and raw that there was not a dry eye in the entire theatre. I for one was bawling like a baby.
The beauty of this show is that you can have a heart-wrenching scene like that and then be crying with laughter five minutes later. Ann Emery who plays Grandma was brilliant and provided some much-needed light relief, and again, Zak Baker as Michael could have the entire audience on the floor with one look. Then there was the breathtaking dance breaks, in particular the scene between “Young Billy” and “Billy’s Older Self” (Barnaby Meredith). As they danced and flew around the stage the audience was silent except for a collective intake of breath when Young Billy goes flying around the stage on a wire. The only problem with this scene is the bloody great big hook attached to the back of Billy’s jeans which ruined the effect slightly as it took away some of the magic.
Overall this show is absolutely fantastic and I am kicking myself for not having been to see it earlier. If you haven’t seen it before then go and book a ticket right now and if you have seen it before then go again because this new cast is flawless.
At the Stage Door I also had the pleasure of meeting David Muscat who is an absolute sweetheart (I’m slightly smitten) and Ruthie Henshall. It did take me a while to actually speak to Ruthie because I’d been building up to the moment for eight years, but I’m so glad I did because she is so lovely and kind and was very tolerant of the jibbering fangirling wreck in front of her.