Sunday, January 07, 2007

Billy, briefly

To the Victoria Palace Theatre to see Elton John and Stephen Daldry's smash-hit musical, Billy Elliot.

I'll be brief: it was terrible. If you imagine the grit, atmosphere, music and strong acting of the original movie, you'll be very disappointed. Instead of the period music (e.g. the fabulous and evocative T-Rex), you get an entirely generic score by Elton. It really could be any musical by any second-rate composer. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber has the decency to include at least one memorable song. 'Electricity' aimed for heart-felt but hit bathetic.

Does anyone else see a distasteful irony in the whole show? We are paying £60 in the West End to see a musical about one of the most difficult periods in Britain's recent history, the 1984 miners' strike, when thousands were about to lose their jobs. (My ticket was a gift.) Yes, shows should be made about difficult subjects (West Side Story is an excellent example), but there was none of the anger or grimness of the film. We had caricatures of suffering, by-the-numbers outrage. It really undercut what was going on, whereas the film reinforced it.

The dancing, however, was superb. The boy (pass on his name) was fluid and graceful. The best parts were when he was dancing by himself, especially the scene in which his rage is danced against the police's riot shields in the semi-dark. It was brilliant and fierce, much more passionate than the rest of the enterprise.

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