Review: St John Fisher students' 'brilliant' Billy Elliot
All credit must go to St John Fisher students and staff for pulling off a simply brilliant exposition of one of the most complex and diverse musicals of the century.
The standard of shows at this school gets stronger and stronger and as one of the first schools in the country to present Billy Elliot, this was no exception.
The audience were treated to top quality tap, street dance, ensemble singing, folk singing, magic realism, solos, duets, and of course ballet; traditional and contemporary.
Politics, Swan Lake, social history, class were all subjects explored through song and dance.
Just like the miners this production needed toughness and resilience.
It’s always a sobering moment when you realise that events you remember are being treated as historical artefacts and 1980’s Britain, the miners’ strike and all the gritty social realism and grimness were all recreated with genuine respect, humour and seriousness.
Layering dancing and singing on top of this to tell a finely nuanced story that interplays concepts of gender and sexuality and growing up is a challenge that was firmly met.
Who better to understand rebellion against authority, the pains of growing up and the struggle for self-expression and identity than young people and teenagers?
12 year old Freddie Brown took on the role of Billy Elliot brilliantly, accompanied by 18 year old Connor Wall as his Father Jackie in a beautiful pairing that shone throughout.
One mark of top quality acting from students is when they play adults and all the performers were superb, accents were correct even when singing and the diction was spot on. Younger performers had clearly crafted their characters with great care with plenty of emotion on display.
I loved the ensemble dancing especially in numbers like Solidarity and Shine led by the perfectly honed Jo Stephenson as the local ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson.
The whole production was faithful to the integrity of the story.
The set design and costumes were detailed and integral to the narrative.
The authentic riot shields of the police officers were used as symbols of oppression and violence as well visually and rhythmically.
The way the production sounded and was lit was brilliant (especially the follow-spot work).
All the scene changes were executed perfectly and blended together by a highly efficient production and props team.
And a special mention must be made for the orchestra, ever present and sounding in tip top condition as usual, tempos were spot on in what was a hugely complex score.
All the characters had depth there were no facile creations. Year 12 student Jake Abbott balanced the anger of older brother Tony with some subtle moments of drama, watched on carefully by Billy’s Mum – a crystal clear Ellie Klouda.
You could see this in the Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher scene which balanced vaudeville with political satire.
You wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Deep into the Ground was full of sentiment without being sentimental.
Full credit must however go to Billy Elliot himself, his sheer stamina, perfect dancing and sensitive acting all being equally strong.
It was a joy to see his progression throughout the performance culminating in a mesmerising Swan Lake with older Billy NicCain.
And what, ultimately, made this production work is its truthfulness. The integrity and respect for the script and the story shone through.