Tag Archives: Stephen Daldry

REVIEW: Billy Elliot Live! DVD

You would be forgiven for thinking that Billy Elliot is the much-loved but tired old workhorse of the West End: still pulling in the crowds but maybe lacking a little of its previous magic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a musical with enormous heart and soul, one that still has the power to move an audience and remains as thrillingly alive as the day it bounded on stage, almost ten years and 10 million ticket sales ago.

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Ruthie Henshall, Deka Walmsley and Elliot Hanna Image © Adam Sorenson

More serious and therefor ultimately more satisfying than the usual musical theatre fodder, it resists the urge to sanitise the issues it touches upon, not least the effect of the miners’ strike of the 80’s which is at the heart of the tale, but it also features: Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, feminism, the loss of a parent, the class system, domestic violence and missed opportunity.

Based on Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film, it is, of course, the story of 11 year old Billy from a beleaguered mining village in the North East of England and his battle with his striking miner father to pursue his dream of becoming a dancer.

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Deka Walmsley and Elliott Hanna Image © Adam Sorenson

Lee Hall’s raw, vivid and expletive filled script is as uncompromising as the times in which it is set. It is written with a sharp wit and an even sharper intelligence, and takes the audience on a genuine emotional rollercoaster ride. There’s no schmaltz here: every laugh wrought or tear shed by the audience is heart-felt.

The music by Sir Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall are a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles: there’s a glitzy show tune beside a powerful anthem next to a jaunty folk tune next to a heart-wrenching ballad. There’s much to delight and keep the ears pleased throughout. A particular stand-out is the stirring “Once We Were Kings”.

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Liam Mower and Elliott Hanna. Image © Adam Sorenson

Ian MacNeil’s set design evokes life in a beleaguered mining village in the 80’s and is cleverly ragged around the edges.

The choreography from Peter Darling is inventive and energetic, and is a clever balance between the rough edged: in the burgeoning talent of Billy and the burly miners and police and the refinement of the big show stopping numbers. Darling’s originality is particularly well showcased in the astonishingly clever “Solidarity” sequence.

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Ruthie Henshall and cast © Adam Sorenson

Elliot Hanna is an outstanding Billy, his beautifully judged acting matching his sublime dancing skills perfectly. It’s easy to forget that this is a child carrying the weight of this show on his tiny shoulders, the maturity with which he pitches his performance is astonishing and is no better demonstrated in the touching relationship between Billy and best pal Michael and in the interactions with Granny. Deka Warmsley is particularly menacing as Billy’s dad and his transformation from prejudice to acceptance of his gifted son is touchingly done. The ensemble, rare for a long-running musical are of a particularly high quality, it would be churlish to single out any particular member as they are all first rate. The only gripe with the cast would be Ruthie Henshall, a West End veteran of many years standing, who is a tad vocally underpowered and has one of the dodgiest accents onstage (only to be surpassed in dodginess by the horrific attempt at a Scottish accent by one of the ensemble). One delightful and moving touch though, is the casting of the first ever stage Billy Liam Mower, now one of the country’s most highly regarded dancers with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, as the older Billy. The scene between the two has the audience weeping on their droves.

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Original ‘Billy’ Liam Mower returns. Image © Adam Sorenson

This is a musical that leaves an impression long after the curtain has fallen and it certainly leaves you with no mascara by the end, it is real and relatable and this DVD release is a perfect representation of a perfect show.

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The ‘Billy Mash Up’ Image © Craig Sugden

The DVD comes with a charming backstage introduction from Elliot Hana and there’s a behind the scenes ‘making of’ video too. There’s also the magical and moving ‘Billy mash-up” where 25 of the actors who have previously played Billy, including the original trio Liam Mower, James Lomas and George Maguire dance together.

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The three original Billys: James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower. Image © Craig Sugden

The Billy Elliot Live! DVD will be released on Monday 24th November 2014

Title image Adam Sorenson

REVIEW: Skylight – Wyndhams Theatre, London

David Hare’s 1995, award-winning play is a perfectly choreographed emotional dance sublimely performed by two of the country’s most gifted actors.

Him, Tom (Bill Nighy) a rich, successful restaurateur, her, Kyra (Carey Mulligan) his former employee now a teacher in a difficult East End school. Two people with a shared history, lovers for six years until his wife discovers their affair they meet in her grim, arctic cold,  council flat a year on from his wife’s death. Still wracked with guilt and grief and seeking closure and comfort, so begins a subtle dance of opposing ideals and emotional attachment as the flames of their relationship flare up and burn out only to be re-ignited and extinguished again.

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Each is a powerful stage presence in different ways: him, stalking panther-like and proprietorially around her grim council flat. Twitchy, edgy, flying off at tangents, veering wildly from one remembrance to another, one argument to the next. Her, still, contained and controlled.

This is a timely revival, Hare’s work, written in the 90’s is as resonant today as it was then. In these times of inequality Kyra’s speech against “right-wing fuckers” in support of social workers is met with rousing applause.

Special mention must go to Bob Crowley’s set design which is instrumental in setting the atmosphere. The grotty flat set against the backdrop of a high-rise council block, where windows illuminate and dim to shows signs of life and Paul Arditti’s sound design of crying babies, birdsong and car engines firing up are evocative.

This is a work of exquisite quality – a real gem.

Image: John Haynes

REVIEW: The Audience, Gielgud Theatre, London

The_Audience_RT_569x315Again in the West End it would appear that the main draw of new play The Audience is its star Helen Mirren, however, that would be doing a great disservice to Peter Morgan’s deftly written, insightful and highly amusing play.

For the 60 years of her reign, on a Tuesday evening, Elizabeth II has met with each of her Prime Ministers. In his play The Audience Peter Morgan, writer of Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning role in The Queen, uses the fact that these encounters are never minuted and bound by a confidentiality that excludes even their spouses, to imagine what takes place during these interactions.

The audiences with eight of the Monarch’s twelve Prime Ministers is told in non-chronological sequence, and is interwoven with scenes of reflection between the Queen and her teenage self, illustrating as she nears adulthood, her growing resignation to her duty.

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As well as showing Her Majesty as confessor and therapist, the piece also hints at a monarch with strongly held political convictions of her own: Harold Wilson at one point jokingly telling the Queen that he has always suspected she was a Lefty at heart and the Queen strongly asserting her disapproval at Margaret Thatcher’s reluctance to impose sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime.

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Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson

There are moments of weakness shown too: the de-commissioning of the royal yacht Britannia and Princess Diana’s scathing criticism in Andrew Morton’s tell-all memoir reveal chinks in the Monarch’s armour.

The inclusion of current events, only 48 hours on from the death of Mrs. Thatcher the details of her funeral have been added in by the writer and the Queen’s disapproval of the recently abdicated Pope whom she bemoans as a light weight, not a lifer like her, all imbue the play with a greater  believability.

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Mirren is, as expected, suitably regal in the role and travels through the decades with ease. The eye-poppingly swift on-stage costume and wig changes are accompanied by a well-observed subtle change of voice here or a more youthful gesture there.

However it is with varying degress of success that the characterisations of the eight ministers are achieved. Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson and Paul Ritter as John Major are particularly effective. McCabe doesn’t come close to Wilson’s nasal tones but his portrayal of (allegedly) the Queen’s favourite PM is endearing, humorous and touching in turn. Ritter perfectly conveys Major’s ill-ease and inadequacy in a job he really didn’t want, his revelation to the Queen that he left school with only three O-Levels is met with the retort: “Well I have no O-Levels at all…what fine hands the country is in.”

Less successful is Nathaniel Parker’s portrayal of Gordon Brown, his physical quirks are on the money but his Scottish accent appears to have come to him via Dublin and Mumbai. Haydn Gwynne also veers into Spitting Image territory, giving a steely-eyed and shellac-haired version of Mrs. Thatcher.

Conspicuous in his absence though, is Tony Blair, having been thoroughly dealt with in Peter Morgan’s 2006 film The Queen.

THE AUDIENCE by Peter Morgan

Bob Crowley’s clever design reflects both the formal coldness of Buckingham Palace and the actual arctic conditions but comfort and shabbiness of Balmoral, replete with its three bar electric fire.

With a stellar cast and some perfectly honed performances, this is finally a show that lives up to the hype.

All images by Johan Persson.