Billy Elliot ‘Wows’ Audiences
We have enjoyed a fabulous week of theatre at RGS Worcester, as the School Production, ‘Billy Elliot’ welcomed and ‘wowed’ audiences each night of the week.
Set in the North East of England during the mid-1980s, ‘Billy Elliot’ takes us back in time to Britain under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and the midst of the Coal Miners’ strike, where we experience a community facing unemployment and poverty. Against this unlikely backdrop we have a coming-of-age story which tackles head on many of the issues that face young people in all generations.
Headmaster, John Pitt, said: “This is a gritty tale, but it is also one of hope and transformation as Billy demonstrates how young people can rise above adversity and uncertainty, which is a very poignant message for our times. Thank you to everyone involved in bringing Drama and performance back to the Godfrey Brown Theatre. This School Production of ‘Billy Elliot’ is superb and showcases the outstanding talents of our pupils’ high level acting, singing and dance. This is alongside the tremendous commitment required by all to deliver such an exceptional production.”
With rapturous applause at the end of each night’s performance, the School has received many compliments from audience members who very much enjoyed their evening of musical theatre at RGS Worcester:
“WOW what an absolutely awesome production of Billy Elliot!! Huge congratulations, we want to watch it again!”
“Stupendous in every way!”
“Absolutely tremendous! Well done RGS Worcester for an amazing performance.”
“A fantastic show and it is fabulous to be able to return to the Performing Arts Centre at RGS Worcester and enjoy live theatre again.”
“An outstanding performance by very talented students!”
“How incredible that teenagers can bring me to tears! Fantastic cast, music, choreography, direction, set design – the lot. It was just wonderful watching. Bravo!”
Director of Drama, Mrs Witcomb, said: “‘Billy Elliot’ is by no means an easy production and the performers have had to all be a triple threat in order to put across this wonderful story as actors, dancers and singers. I am overwhelmed yet again with the talent, commitment, enthusiasm and passion of our students and my sincere thanks goes to all of the cast, crew, choreographer and musicians for their incredible hard work.”
Please do read the review of the musical below by Mrs Laura Bond, Second in the English department:
‘Billy Elliot’ – Opening Night Review
The much-anticipated Senior School production of ‘Billy Elliot’ the musical was certainly worth the wait. Though theatres have lay dormant throughout the pandemic, the efforts of RGS pupils have not wavered and the tireless and driven cast members certainly have a lot for which to be proud. Mrs Witcomb has once again triumphed in her role as Artistic Director and Producer in tackling such a well-known and challenging musical.
This production is particularly momentous in that it restores the Godfrey Brown Theatre to its former glory, once again welcoming live audiences: the opening scene gave attendees an innovative display of the tense political landscape of 1980s Britain, including footage from Thatcher’s time in government. In the midst of the coal miner’s strike, the powerful opening scene quickly established the conflict within the community. Costume design was inspired and allowed us to distinguish the different groups from the outset. Helena Stockford-Parsons masterminding the Stage Crew must be credited: the amount of set changes was a real challenge in itself and all were executed with utmost professionalism and care.
In her introduction, Mrs Witcomb states that the performers’ ‘energy is second to none’ and it is this energy that permeates the performance. Not only is this a play that demands a difficult northern accent but one which asks performers to accomplish excellently choreographed scenes of ballet and tap, engage in often violent stage combat and capture incredibly touching and poignant moments of solidarity in the face of adversity.
Ben Sears as Billy Elliot brilliantly performed all of the above moments with a deft sense of character, capturing Billy’s vulnerability but also his passion and love. A very physical role, Ben did not shy away from difficult moments of dance and his talents here were authentic and expert. His command of the space saw him pirouette and plié with delicate precision and we all followed Billy’s voyage into the world of ballet with admiration and wonder. The movable domestic set was ingenious and brought the Elliot household to life. Billy’s bedroom became a symbol of childhood innocence and was a visual reminder that ‘Billy Elliot’ is a coming-of-age story at heart. The range that a character such as Billy demands was tackled brilliantly by Ben, notable moments include the boxing scene, well commanded and led by George Oates as the very funny and demonstrative George; the very touching, nostalgic scenes with his mother, played with an ethereal quality by Isla Tallon, and the vocally powerful end to the first act where Ben captured Billy’s growing rage and frustration with vigour.
The Elliot family scenes were particularly commendable: Freddie Nock, Ethan Farmer and Rosie Greenwood were superb in their depiction of Billy’s relatives and together they played multifaceted roles that laid bare not only the difficulties faced by the mining community but the struggles that existed within the domestic sphere. At times the trio were very comic in their timing and served as light relief from the volatile politics but also showed equal brilliance in their heartfelt scenes of family grief, acceptance and loyalty. Both dialogue and singing within these scenes captured the range of emotions wonderfully. Rosie Greenwood’s solo was standout in its portrayal of Grandma’s tender memories as well as her humorous, feisty nature.
Ethan Farmer and Freddie Nock in their roles as Jackie Elliot and Tony Elliot respectively captured the visceral and raw struggle that existed and explored not only the political tensions, but the toxic masculinity that is so prevalent within this story. Both actors would not be out of place on the professional stage and should be commended for their stage combat together with the very believable portrayal of anguish and disillusionment through superb and faultless acting and voice work.
Harry Standing’s characterisation of Michael Caffrey echoed the playful youth of Ben Sears’ Billy and together ‘Expressing Yourself’ was both moving and funny in its exploration of childhood and identity amidst the disjointed adult community. This was Harry’s debut in a Senior School production and he did not disappoint: having never danced before he handled the complex tap routines with surprising agility and poise. Both Ben and Harry captured the pure and tender friendship between Billy and Michael with sensitivity.
Bethan Standing and her ballet girls were an absolute highlight of the performance; it is certainly hard to believe that this was Bethan’s debut on the RGS stage. Her portrayal of Mrs Wilkinson was astounding: her voice work in particular is something to be praised and her performance of ‘Shine’ captured her enviable skill as both a singer and dancer. The precision and synchronicity of the ballerinas was beautiful to watch and was contrasted superbly with the comedy of Amelia Lane as Debbie Wilkinson. Amelia played Debbie with an assured vivacity that had the audience reeling with laughter.
Mrs Thompson and Miss Spencer certainly excelled in their roles as Choreographer and Vocal Director: the ensemble pieces are what truly allowed RGS pupils to shine in their accomplishments with dance and song. ‘Solidarity’ wowed audiences with the presence all pupils brought to the stage and the combination of harmonies and dance was exceptional. Equally deserving of praise is the orchestra, led by Mr Soman as Musical Director, the musicians were incredibly skilled in helping to capture such intense and varied emotions and together the orchestra and ensemble were a harmonious and powerful force. Mr Graeme and his team are equally deserving of recognition in ensuring lighting and sound ran smoothly throughout.
Though primarily a story of struggle and conflict, the comedic moments were some of the strongest performances. Both George Oates and Oliver Tibbetts deserve credit for their contribution to this humour. Oliver’s characterisation of Mr Braithwaite was one of carefree frivolity and he captured the apathy and playfulness of this character with humorous dance and movement. The opening of Act 2 was in stark contrast to the anger and riot at the end of Act 1 and saw George Oates further his already comedic portrayal of George through the visually rewarding depiction of Margaret Thatcher, complete with handbag and wig. He took to the stage and brilliantly caricaturised Thatcher, lifting the spirits of not only his fellow miners, but of the audience too.
One of the more tender scenes of the play saw Mr Beecham, as Older Billy, dance alongside Ben Sears in beautiful synchronicity, tackling this difficult ballet routine with a dignity and control that perfectly mirrored Billy’s growing skill as a ballet dancer. To draw upon the Headmaster’s welcome: ‘Billy demonstrates how young people can rise above adversity and uncertainty, which is a very poignant message for our time’. Well done to all.
Huge congratulations to all involved on an incredible show.
Mrs Laura Bond
Teacher of English, Second in Department