As a big fan of the film Billy Elliot I’ve always wondered what it would be like to see the story played out on stage.
After hearing that Billy Elliot was coming to the Theatre Royal I jumped at the chance to speak to Darren Madison who is directing the stage production.
Diving straight into the deep end I asked what it was he loved about the story of Billy Elliot that made him want to direct the stage version. Darren’s voice lit with excitement and passion as he talked about the “fantastic story that takes audiences on a roller coaster of emotions”.
Darren has been directing professionally for six years now and has experience with musical theatre and professional pantos. “I enjoy both but where panto is really good entertainment there’s poignancy in musicals and the audience is taken on a journey,” he said.
“It’s nice to see a panto through a child’s eyes though and see their reactions and wonder at it all.”
He was also an actor for eight years and toured Lincoln during one of his performances. “It’s really nice to be back as a director of a production,” he said.
“It’s good that I’m able to understand both sides of the process, both acting and directing. I appreciate teaching the children and it’s always good to be able to get up and show them if they don’t quite understand what it is I’m asking of them. “
In the search for the perfect Billy a large number of children were auditioned across the county before the production team came across Luke Dankoff (11). Luke had the cheeky chappie charm and performing skill they were looking for. “For Billy in particular it was just important to find a great personality as well as someone who could pull off the performing.
“We were really looking for that cheekiness but the actor also needed to be able to pull of the real sadness that Billy feels. His character also has a lot of conflict to deal with, both in his family and with the miners strike, so he also needed to be quite aggressive.”
The young leading man has been in training for five months now, working on a combined training course of acting, singing and dancing. He’s had ballet and tap lessons and the whole cast has had a dialect coach so that they can get the Geordie accent spot on.
Luke has also done work on comic timing, gymnastic skills and understanding the pathos of the piece.
As in the West End production the Lincoln show will use a static set throughout with different pieces added and removed as the performance progresses.
Interestingly, the production also uses video projection as a way of educating people about the miners’ strike and as a scene change technique.
Recently there seems to have been an influx of stage adaptations of both film and TV series. As a fan of Billy Elliot the film, I wondered what differences would be noticed by the audience aside from the obvious considerations that have to be made for location purposes and fitting it all into two hours.
“I think it’s important that audiences realise it’s not the film,” said Darren. “The production stays true to the story and the characters are faithful to the film but the music for example was created specially for the stage production by Elton John.
“I don’t think you can beat the fact that theatre is live. You can be doing the same production for a year and each night is different. Each audience is different and so each reaction and every atmosphere has a new effect. Theatre remains fresh.
“The performance is very powerful and I think audiences will enjoy it tremendously. The show features some of the county’s most talented children and I think the Lincoln community will really take it to their hearts.”
Following performances in Spalding and Peterborough Darren and his cast also performed a 10-minute excerpt of their show on 18th July at a special gala event at Victoria Palace in London’s West End, where they performed in front of Andrew Lloyd Weber for the fifth anniversary of Billy Elliot in London – a nice little warm up before their first performance in Lincoln yesterday!
“I think Billy Elliot has been very challenging for all of us but very rewarding at the same time. Audiences will come to see a West End standard show and they won’t be disappointed – it’s a fantastic opportunity for the people of Lincolnshire to come and support their extremely talented youngsters.”
Billy Elliot the Musical is showing at the Lincoln Theatre Royal until Sunday 25th July.