Sunday 28 September 2014

Billy Elliot The Musical Live (But Not Live)…

This afternoon, streamed from London’s West End to cinemas around the world, including my little local one, was Billy Elliot The Musical Live, which I had agreed to go and watch with a friend although it wouldn’t have been my top choice of Sunday afternoon entertainment. Straight after the show I found myself writing this blog.

Billy Elliot The Musical Live (But Not Live) – I’ll give it points for being a new experience but this one really wasn’t for me. I had my doubts before I went (too much real world, and all that) and it just did not work, in my opinion, for so many reasons.

First of all, and most intrusively, the camera. In the theatre itself I would have been seated in one position, as I was in the cinema, and at all times throughout the performance would have seen as much of the action as my position allowed, which is usually most if not all of the key moments.

But this was edited/displayed in a contrived manner like a film or television programme. I had not expected there to be multiple camera angles, nor for someone else to be dictating to me which parts of the action I could focus on at any given time.

I did not want to stare at a close up of the side of someone’s head while there was dancing happening stage left. I did not want to solely focus on Michael-on-a-bicycle at the end of the show while Billy was evidently doing something worthy of applause in the centre aisle. I did not need cheesy, ill-executed panning during a highly charged emotional moment, nor did I need confusing cross fades of action that was happening simultaneously on the stage, or images that were out of focus. Bad form.

Secondly, the cinema itself. If you are going to put on a show that is mirroring a theatre performance and thus relies on someone else’s timing for the start and for the interval, then for the gods’ sakes pay someone to stand by the house light switch to make sure it goes on and off at the right time!

I did not want to miss the beginning of the show and the start of the second half because of glare all over the screen, and I did not want to uncomfortably witness unsteady and unhappy pensioners struggling to get up and down stairs in the dark. Bad form.

So even before I get to the show itself you can see things weren’t going great. Am I being too picky? I’m not sure, but I figure if these things were hindering my concentration on, and enjoyment of, the show, then I must have some valid points.

The show itself had moments of genius, I won’t deny that, and I can see why people like it. That said, I cannot help but think its impact and messages were lost behind weak ‘humour’ and a narrative that moves far too quickly from full on homophobic attitude to what ends up as frankly a bizarre and uncharacteristic support of Billy’s dream (a dream which, I might add, he doesn’t seem too bothered about achieving for most of the second half).

The show had humour and it had sadness (though not nearly enough sadness and impact as the real story justifies). It exhibited extreme talent, threw in some good tunes, some very strong scenes (and a few scenes which I will never understand the point of) and overall, as expected, had some great things to say about society that it managed in a partially effective way.

Yet as I sit here reflecting on the last few hours I can’t help but feel that this show delivers sensation over content and for that reason I doubt will ever win me over. The incredible power of the story and the themes it covers, for me, were totally belittled by dancing dresses and fickle characterisation.

I sound like a total misery; a total, über-critical, misery, I know, but I expected more from such a renowned performance. I expected to be moved and exhilarated. Shocked and made to think. Left with an emotional connection. 

I expected… something more than… this.

Elloise Hopkins.

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