Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Back To Billy (Part 4)

There are times when no matter how hard I try, writing an appropriate introduction is somehow beyond me. Why would this be? Well... how do you introduce an actor who on his 100th performance in a lead role, delivers by far the best performance of his life? A boy who at just 13 years old can out perform people of twice his age and experience. An actor who never gives anything less than 110% at every show. Words just cannot express just how good this kid is. His name is Tom Holland, and until you see him perform, you wont appreciate the power and emotion Tom is capable of conveying as Billy Elliot. If this wasn't good enough, his dancing abilities both in street and ballet are completely out of this world.

So his 100th performance, I am guessing it must have been rather special to him. So it went without saying that he gave so much to tonight's show. I've seen Tom six times now, and what amazes me is how many delicate touches he adds to his performance. I spot a new one each time I see him! A moment which tickles me every time is where he is told at the Royal Ballet School he would have to work hard on his academic studies. All the other Billy's just sit through this line, where Tom instead lets out a huge sigh and leans right back in his chair showing his disappointment in hearing this. Another more emotional touch is where his mum appears in "The Letter" and whilst crying he lips the word "mum". Its really touching and makes the scene so much more heart wrenching. All these touches are so small, yet so significant in developing the character of Billy which Tom has done so well.

I have to be honest, I am unsure as to whether they could ever replace someone as versatile and talented as Tom when his time comes to move on from the show. As much as I try, I just cannot fault Tom in any of the times I have seen him. His "Angry Dance" is loud and expressive and his "Electricity" routine shows the diversity that he has to offer, switching between street and ballet moves in a piece that has been choreographed so well. Tom is a huge asset to this show, and it always excites me to know when he is performing because I know he will always give all that he has got. I am so glad his milestone show went so well for him and indeed for me as I personally feel this was the best show I had seen to date with the exception of the newly altered boxing scene which I will tell you all about later.

But in a show like this, you are only as good as the cast around you. For me the child cast line up was second to none. Joining Tom were Fleur as Debbie, Connor as Michael, Jonathan as Tall Boy and Eliot as Small Boy. What a line up, I make no secret of the fact that I think Fleur is by far the best Debbie in the current cast, and indeed in recent times. She can play the role of the spoiled middle class brat so well. That sounds like a rather harsh insult I know, but honestly isn't... It is genuinely a testament to her acting abilities. Fleur is just far more natural on stage and has a much bigger personality than some of the other girls i have seen in the same role. This said I feel Francesca is coming on a lot more since joining the cast. I have to be honest when I first saw her i didn't think much of her at all, but over time she has grown as a performer and the hard work she has put into this part is now showing through beautifully. But I still maintain that Fleur holds the number one spot and she demonstrated just why in her fantastic performance tonight.

You will already have read that in my opinion Jonathan and Eliot are the best Tall and Small Boy respectively, so it goes without saying that I was pleased to have them both on this evening's bill, even if little Eliot wasn't quite up to his usual form. I don't think this was so much his fault however. As i mentioned above the boxing scene has changed a lot, so adapting to these changes must have been difficult, especially baring in mind he is only just seven years old!

Connor on the other hand, I love seeing him perform, and this would be the 8th time I have had the pleasure of doing so. He has such a huge personality that comes through at every show. Someone once asked me whether Connor my favorite Michael. I find it really difficult to choose between him and George Maycock, as I love how the two boys portray the character differently. I could sit here and compare the them both all night and try and find the answer, but honestly, I don't think I could ever conclusively come to a decision. So I can't say he is my favorite, I defiantly have a bigger soft spot for Connor. I think its that charm he has both on and off the stage which he wins people over with. Either way Connor was the perfect choice to pair up with Tom, though i must say i miss the faces he used to pull in the boxing scene before it was changed. Argh!!! I keep talking about the altered scene and still haven't told you about it!!!

So whats changed? Primarily the lead actor. Remember in one of the last blogs I told you that Trevor Fox had left the company? His replacement is a gentlemen by the name of David Nellist. With Nellist comes the adaptations of the scene which now see it performed much like it is in Broadway. I don't like the fact we keep having to change the London show in order to make it even more similar to the New York production. Afterall it was here first, and furthermore the old scene worked beautifully. Why fix whats not broken? The interaction between George and the boxing kids seems to have deteriorated somewhat. i am unsure as to whether this is due to the change of actor or the scene alterations.

For me this scene was all about the other kids other than Billy. When Michael manages to hit George in a rather sensitive spot (wow wasn't that tactful of me?) Connor always used to pull such a funny face, imagine somewhere between laughing and the shock of what he managed to do. It was perfect for the scene. Though it nowseems as this has been dropped in favour of George continually having Michael in a head lock. I personally feel this is completely over the top, and detracts from the child actors participation in this scene. Michael is a comical character, and removing these quirky moments makes it harder for an audience member to understand the personality of young Michael in the show.

I will be honest I haven't warmed to David or the changes yet. I can see him becoming a more comical George and I think in time this will work, but for now I am going to have to reserve a judgement. After all we are talking about his first night, nerves must have been present. Whats more I always take a while to adapt to change, so I will give him another show or two then let you know what I think.

In all, I still maintain this was my favorite Billy show to date. All credit to Tom for making it such a fantastic show. I am once more itching to see the show again, but with my drama commitments forthcoming, I foresee it being at least the end of the month before I am back at the Victoria Palace Theatre. You know what, I almost hope the next time I go it will be Tom again... then again I do love Tanner's ballet, and I haven't seen the amazing Fox Jackson-Keen in well over a month, or Brad Wilson for even longer. Oh and Ollie Gardner just gets better every time I see him. You know what? Bring on any Billy, they are all amazing... but that said, after what I have just seen, I think Tom is just a little bit more special.

G xxx


  1. Hi Gareth,

    just spend a good part of hour reading your new blog items as I was away on my holiday for a while and didn't read your blog. As before I'm impressed by attention to detail you put in your writing. I like it very much that you try to prove any your claim, not just declare it. Perhaps, you are slowly moving to more professional reviewing, and I hope you will become more "critical" and embracing more cultural context - but without losing your personal enthusiastic touch on that way...

    Your description of Tom's performance is especially interesting for me as I (who saw 8 Billys) consider him as my "No.2" (or even "No.1" as I believe - as you know from my long essay - that my "No.1" was actualy doing another, "different" show, and so there's no point to make comparisons). I think Tom is a geniuos natural actor and as such has a great future. He's even inspired me to write a post at the Forum after a year of retirement. This item (not lengthy at all, don't be afraid!) ca be found here - at the end of that blog (No.3):

  2. Well Gareth firstly with regard to your sad blog, "what a bummer" I lost my job "redundant" and I am struggeling , living on a £6000 o/d which is about to run out, I have nothing to sell and no equity, so I am really up "shit alley".If I don't pull out of this dive it will be bankrupcey , death or both , "what a bummer".
    However I like yopur Tom ,Billy Blog and I absolutely agree with you, Tom is number one along with Brad.