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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Izen’

I have a great affection for Lee Hall & Elton John’s show, based on Hall and Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film. I come from a mining village in South Wales and the show perfectly portrays the sense of community of such places at that time, Thatcher & Scargill’s war at their expense and the hope that Billy represents. I’ve lost track of the number of times I saw it during its 11 year run in the West End, but I was still greatly anticipating this first revival just six years after it left London.

It’s set in the North-East coalfields, in Easington, County Durham. The backdrop, of course, is the 1984-85 miner’s strike and Billy’s widowed dad and elder brother are in the thick of it. Billy ends up in a dance class by mistake, heading home after his boxing class, where Mrs Wilkinson sees promise and persuades him to return. When the family find out, they are horrified he’s taken up ‘something for girls’, and the Royal Ballet audition in Newcastle Mrs Wilkinson has set up has to be aborted. They eventually realise how much it means to Billy and a whip round funds a last chance trip to London. He’s accepted, but as he leaves the strike collapses and Billy becomes a glimmer of hope set against the inevitable mine closures and demise of the community. A brilliant meeting of social history and personal story.

The highly effective design by Michael Taylor (set) and Ben Cracknell (lighting) consists of some wire mesh screens and lighting rigs which move speedily and dramatically with the action, with just a few props to create Billy’s home, the boxing and dance class rooms and the pit-head. Simple but brilliant. Director Nikolai Foster has made a few changes and cuts, but if anything the show has more emotional impact. I cried more than I did in any of my London visits. George Dyer’s band give it more of a rock concert aesthetic.

Joe Caffrey reprises his role as Billy’s dad from the original production, though he grew up with it, starting as brother Tony, played here by Luke Baker. They are very lucky to have Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs Wilkinson, a wonderful performance, and Rachel Izen as Grandma and Jessica Daley as Billy’s (dead) mum both melt your heart. There are four kids alternating the three child leads. We had Leo Hollingsworth as Billy and Bobby Donald as Michael, both absolutely terrific, both in their stage debuts.

Though the social backdrop and Billy’s personal story are sad, the show is an uplifting joy. It’s a great tribute to the quality of our regional theatres and to local talent in the East Midlands. Now in its last week. Get to Leicester if you can.

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