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Haverhill students produce a spectacular stage version of a film favourite

Ryan Abbott as Billy Elliot's dad, Jackie
Ryan Abbott as Billy Elliot's dad, Jackie

Billy Elliot The Musical

by Samuel Ward Academy

The students of Samuel Ward Academy took the chance to showcase just how much talent is within their ranks with this outstanding stage version of the film that was released in 2000.

It was a production of quite ambitious scale but the challenge placed before the cast was met head on with verve and style, augmented by a rousing score and atmospheric use of lighting.

Most people will be familiar by now with the story of 11-year-old Billy Elliot and his discovery of dance, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 miners’ strike and its damaging impact on the north east community in which he lives with his recently widowed dad, brother and grandma.

The musical is energised by some tremendous choreography and the performance of year seven student Aidan Elsden in the titular role was very impressive.

At times the production was poignant and sad, particularly during the scenes in which Billy talks with his late mum (Megan Sentence) but also due to the obvious melancholy of his dad Jackie (a sterling performance by Ryan Abbott) and the visceral anger coming from his older brother Tony (powerfully played by Wez Ruthven).

But despite the sadness and tangible desperation felt by the members of the mining community as they slowly lost a grip on their very way of life, there was always a gritty humour that shone through, often via the use of some very fruity language.

The scenes in which Billy and his best friend Michael (Bradley Austin), with his penchant for dressing up in girls’ clothing and wearing make up, were among my favourites, both heartwarming and funny, while also showing how much the two boys were culturally out of kilter with the expected norms their immediate society.

You can’t shirk away from the realities of working class lives that are under stress though, and Billy Elliot never did that.

Billy discovers that dance can be the conduit for self-expression that he needs and with the help of his ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson - a wonderful turn by Aiden’s older sister, the clearly very talented Shannon Elsden - he is given the chance to make the most of it.

At times two different scenes were acted out on stage simultaneously, juxtaposing Mrs Wilkinson’s ballet class alongside the clashes between the miners on the picket line and the police.

It was quite a tough construct to pull off but the excellent dance choreography and direction of Charlotte Scammerton and Matt Russell, respectively, ensured it worked well.

I must make it clear that aside from the principal cast members of Billy, Jackie, Tony, Billy’s mum and Michael, there is a Cast A and Cast B for the other principals; grandma, Mrs Wilkinson and her daughter Debbie.

I saw Cast A in action.

The show has comedy and pathos. It is emotive and filled with some cracking numbers and dance routines, but throughout it all you never lose sight of the real impact that the miners’ strike is having on the community.

After its in-school performances, Billy Elliot moves to Haverhill Arts Centre for a show at 2pm on Sunday, April 2 and at 7pm on Monday, April 3.

For tickets call 01440 714140 or visit www.haverhillartscentre.co.uk.

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