Billy Elliot was Katharine’s and my first stage musical. We were both more than a little apprehensive and, I suspect, ready to blame the other had all gone wrong. We’d been persuaded by all the hype and in particular Dinos Chapman’s review on Newsnight . Chapman appeared to have come to it from the same perspective – dread – but been converted. All the critics seem to be pushing Billy Elliot the Musical as the defining cultural event of the year. And they’re right – it took three deserved standing ovations.
It’s important to expunge the film, with which I had problems, from your mind. That was okay, but I was one of those who hated the 1970s soundtrack. I like a bit of T-Rex, but this was the 1980s and the excuse – ‘well his older brother was into it’ – didn’t wash because it was on every miner’s radio too. It wasn’t just wrong in an out of context way, it helped define the mining community as outdated and backward looking.
This Billy Elliot, with original music by Elton John, has no problems like that. It has all the spectacle that I imagine a musical should have thanks to the dance, without any of the nonsense I’ve come to expect from the genre. And while the story remains, it is a more political piece. A grotesque giant Thatcher puppet pulls the strings as miners sing, ‘We celebrate this day Maggie Thatcher, as it’s one day closer to your death’ (a sentiment still widely held today).
I now regret not making it to Jerry Springer the Opera as it looks like musical may well be shrugging off the long dark night of Andrew Lloyd Webber and demonstrating that it can have something interesting to say to those without blue rinses.