Annette McLaughlin marks a year in the show as Billy Elliot The Musical reaches Southampton’s Mayflower (February 7-March 4).
And what a year it has been.
“I think it is one of those very rare things that is a brilliant film but also transfers brilliantly to the stage.
“It is the same group of people that have put it on the stage, and they have managed to make it very theatrical. There are obviously changes from the film for things that you can only do on the stage and can’t do in the film.
“But it really works – and it is very rare that you get something that works both on film and in the theatre.
“In the theatre, of course, you are seeing it all with your own eyes there in front of you and feel it with your own feelings.
“And you have got it all together – and then, of course, there is the music. It is one of those musicals that give musicals a good name for all the people that say they don’t like musicals. There is a 15-minute number called Solidarity, and I think it is one of the most brilliant pieces of story-telling I have ever seen on stage.
Billy Elliot the Musical is now on tour across the UK and Ireland for the first time after 11 years in London’s West End.
Set in a northern mining town during the miners’ strike of 1984-85, Billy Elliot offers the inspirational story of a young boy’s fight to make his dream come true.
The show gives you the chance to follow Billy’s journey from boxing ring to ballet class where – by chance – he discovers a passion for dance that unites his family, inspires his community and changes his life forever.
“We get all sorts of people coming to see it. There are certain types of men that get dragged along, but by the end they are in tears they have enjoyed it so much. It is a universal show. There are all sorts of things you can identify with, the relationship between Billy and his father and the relationship between Billy and my character Mrs Wilkinson (the Julie Walters role in the film), the woman who teaches him to dance. Everybody remembers a teacher who has inspired them, who has changed their lives.
“And people can also identify with this idea of a community that is struggling.”
It is all set against the background of the miners’ strike, against which, rebelling against everyone, himself included, Billy discovers that he just loves to dance – hugely helped by Mrs Wilkinson.
Annette is revelling in a fascinating, rich and contradictory character which it is her task, following in the footsteps of Julie Walters on the big screen, to bring to life.
“She is a brilliantly-flawed character,” Annette says.
“She is this chain-smoking, sarcastic, quite tough teacher. She cares about all the girls in her dance class even though she knows that they are not going to add up to much, but she really does care for them, and then she comes across Billy.
“He helps her as much as she helps him. She finds her passion for dance again, and she becomes like a surrogate mother.
“It’s a really beautiful arc that my character has.
“She can see the talent and the passion that Billy has got and she knows she can unlock it and help him.
“That’s really important. I spend most of my scenes with Billy, and we have got four brilliant boys that I work with.
“They all bring their own different things to it. They are all fantastic. They all have their own slant. That’s important when you are doing a long run.
“You have got to be open and in the moment, and that helps when you are working with four different boys.”
Billy Elliot The Musical is at Southampton’s Mayflower until March 4.
Tickets for the show are available on www.mayflower.org.uk.
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