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Tag Archive | "Billy Elliot"

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Feature: Spotlight on Killian Donnelly

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Freya Smith

Killian Donnelly has been receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of Deco, the egotistical and bolshy front-man of Roddy Doyle’s new West End musical The Commitments. I recently caught up with him, and was relieved to find little similarity between the actor and his character…

THE COMMITMENTS

Donnelly was raised in Ireland, where he participated in amateur dramatics. Unlike many West End regulars, he did not follow the standard drama school to agent trajectory: “Someone had seen me in an am dram show in Ireland, and people kept saying to me if you want to go professional you need to move to London. So, I moved over about five years ago. I literally knocked on doors of agents, and one of them got me an audition for Les Mis. I was offered a twelve month contract. I was gobsmacked.”

Since then, he has appeared in other West End shows, playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera and Tony in Billy Elliot. On the eve of taking a well deserved holiday to Greece, Donnelly received a phone call from his agent informing him of an audition for a workshop of The Commitments. “I was like, ‘Are you serious? That’s being made into a show?!’ He said, ‘It’s about a young band in …’ I said, ‘Are you mad? I know!’ He said, ‘They want to see you for the role of Dee-koh.’ I was like, ‘IT’S DECO!’ [laughs]. So I went to this audition, and they’d said don’t bring anything from The Commitments movie. I was running late, so, of course, I sang ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Midnight Hour’. But, I got a phone call going, ‘You’ve got it. It’s in three weeks.’ I had to cancel my holiday but, obviously, I had the best craic.”

What happened next? “Two-and-a-half years later I get a phone call saying– at this point I’m in Billy Elliot – they’re auditioning for The Commitments now. I was like, I really need an audition. I’d love to audition for this show. And because I had done the workshop they didn’t need to do a first or second round with me. They just said they’d bring the people they want into the final. But they didn’t tell me that! So I’m looking at people going through the first round and second round and I’m thinking ‘Why haven’t I been seen? Have I done something wrong?!’ But luckily I was told about the final audition, and that was amazing because we got to sing with a live band.”

Based on a book of the same name by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments charts the formation and disintegration of a soul group in 1980s Dublin. Donnelly’s character, Deco, fronts the band, and his narcissism and obstinacy are the source of several disputes within the group. Donnelly acknowledges that Deco is a move away from some of the characters he’s portrayed in the past: “I was always put into the category of an Enjolras in Les Mis or a Raoul in Phantom. I briefly played Tony in Billy Elliot, which I loved, but it seemed that Deco was a completely different character to try my hand at. He’s very arrogant and he’s crude. He’s a loveable prick. It’s amazing how the audience seem to love hating him. I’m adoring it.”

With the exception of Donnelly, the cast of The Commitments is largely made up of previously unknown Irish actors making their West End débuts. He jokes “everyone’s been calling me a veteran, as if I’ve fought in a war”. Nonetheless, he seems to have embraced his new found mother hen identity: “I do sometimes have to give advice when cast members are looking to go out for a pint. I say ‘remember we’ve two shows tomorrow…’ and when they come in with a hangover the next day I’m like ‘Now, look at yeh! Look at yeh!’”

On originating the role of Deco, he muses: “If you’re in the West End in a musical, that’s the biggest thing you can do. And, having done that I’m thinking ‘where do I go from here?’ You’re ticking things off the bucket list. Some day I’d absolutely love to do a spell on Broadway. I’d love to do straight theatre. I did the Les Mis movie last year – I’d love to do more television and film. I also like writing. I’ve written some pantomimes which went on in Ireland and now I’m doing one over here in Norwich this year. There’s always so much more to do.”

Donnelly’s passion and appetite for working spills over into his advice for aspiring actors: “It’s a cliché, but I say – just go for it, and never let anyone put you down or take your dream away from you. I did go through a time when people said, ‘You need a proper job’ or ‘You need to focus on something stronger now and make sure you’re concentrating on something other than acting’, but I never did and I always just went for it. I never let anybody tell me that I can’t do anything. And I love what I do. Get singing lessons. Go train. Keep your head down and concentrate. When you go into an audition, go in with your own idea, never copy your favourite performer. Read the script and do your research. You can never do too much research. If you love it, just keep doing it. It’s the best job in the world.”

The Commitments runs from Tuesdays – Sundays at 7.30 pm (with matinees on Saturday and Sunday) at The Palace Theatre. For more information visit The Commitments website.

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The Food of Love: Thatcher’s musicals?

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Annabelle Lee

billy elliot1

As I’m sure you’ll know, music within the theatre had an integral part to play in responding to the death of Margaret Thatcher. The decision to keep the anti-Tory retaliation ‘Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher’ in a performance of Billy Elliot in the West End on the evening of her passing was put down to an audience vote. I’m sure that the performance of the number that night was a clear manifestation of what the musicologist Nicholas Cook termed “negotiating cultural identity”. A song that is lyrically sardonic, with jive-like beats and major key melodies and harmonies lending an ironic twist, being sung by young and old: a poignant symbol of Thatcher’s impact on countless generations. The bitter humour makes it understandable why the audience chose to keep the song in. Furthermore, the story is being told not on behalf of a whole nation, but from a particular sector of society: workers involved in the 1984–85 miners’ strike, affecting the British coal industry.

But perhaps the agenda is more subtle. In his book State of the Nation, Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington argues that “it seemed apt that the musical should become the dominant form of the 1980s since it represented Thatcherism in action: what it celebrated was the triumph of individualism and profitability.” It appears reasonable then that these values are not only embodied by the ‘song-and-dance’ templates, poster, ticket agency or hotel advertising, or even the goal-driven narratives, but also the architecture of the music. For instance, I see the score of Cats as producing order out of chaos, opening with uneasy, fugue-like passages which are resolved in ‘Memory’ – Grizabella’s desire to recommence a new life – and finally concluded in a triumphant orchestral and chorale-like wall of sound as she is the chosen feline to take the ‘Journey to the Heaviside Layer’. Les Miserables, without a doubt, takes on a similar structure: the gritty minor toil of the prisoners’ opening chorus, followed by an overwhelming range of numbers varying in mood and genre as Jean Valjean searches for the man inside himself. The climactic ‘One Day More’ and ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ are permeated with the idealism of living for tomorrow, for the future, enhanced by the simple yet soaring melodic phrases. And while the gospel-infused ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ from Starlight Express sings the praises of steam-powered engines, there is undeniably a secondary message of the ability to achieve your destiny.

Of course, this is not the case with all musical theatre pieces. It would be a generalisation and historically inaccurate to frame every number within Thatcherist beliefs. Nevertheless, in light of recent events, it is fair to say that music has an extraordinary capacity to be able to say whatever you want it to, whether politically implicit or explicit.

Image: Billy Elliot

Annabelle Lee

Annabelle Lee

Born in Hertfordshire, Annabelle is a graduate from Durham University with an honours degree in Music. She is currently studying for a Master’s in Music at Oxford University and intends to pursue a PhD. She was a Live Blogger for A Younger Theatre at TheatreCraft 2012 and now blogs monthly for A Younger Theatre on the role of music in theatre.

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The Wicked Stage: Best “New” Musical and other surprises from Olivier Awards 2013

Posted on 07 May 2013 by Sarah Green

Billy_Elliot_-_Victoria_Palace_-_Victoria,_London_(8103652642)

The Olivier Awards are always an exciting time for the theatre community and there was great anticipation as ITV were showing highlights of the award ceremony. Perhaps best not to discuss how ineffective these highlights were, with poor editing that cut performances and speeches. Instead I want to focus on some of the musicals that were nominated and the eventual winners, as there were a few surprises.

I must admit I didn’t know the nominations for Best New Musical beforehand so was beyond surprised to hear that Top Hat was the winner. What saddened me was that three of the four nominees can hardly be called ‘new’ as the songs are all well-known: Top Hat is based on a film from 1935! The Bodyguard is also based on a film and the songs of Whitney Houston, whilst Soul Sister revolves around the music of Tina Turner. So I think most of the theatre community had high hopes for the only original show nominated: Loserville. It may have had its short run against it, but the theatre world had a lot of respect for what it was attempting as a young show – but sadly it wasn’t to be.

At least we can expect better competition next year which will no doubt include The Book of Mormon (which missed out on being eligible this year), Once and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the list of nominees. So can we just put it down to being a bad year?

However, for all the controversy of the Best New Musical, the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award certainly warmed my heart. The nominees were Billy Elliot, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and Matilda. Let’s be honest, after its domination of the Olivier Awards 2012 I was convinced the prize would go to Matilda, and I would have pinned Billy Elliot as the underdog after Phantom and Wicked, so a big grin appeared on my face when it was announced as the winner. The joy of audience awards is that people are getting their say on what they class as a worthy winner, so for a show that is now eight years old to win is very encouraging. Perhaps it’s due to a resurgence of relevance after the death of Margaret Thatcher, but I don’t want to detract from the show itself as I love the score (much fun can be had singing ‘Electricity’ around the house complete with Geordie accent).

It gets hard to defend musical theatre when shows with 70-year-old songs are winning awards for new shows, but when a musical like Billy Elliot wins the audience award, or indeed Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd which won Best Revival, Best Actor and Best Actress, it makes the defence easier. As I said before, I just look forward to the Olivier Awards 2014 as I believe we will have a tougher competition on our hands – and who knows what will win the Audience Award next year!

Image: Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace; Victoria, London

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Review: Spoonface Steinberg / Krapp’s Last Tape

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Laura Turner

The pairing up of two short plays always requires a delicate balance. Hull Truck Theatre has selected two monologues that address questions of life, loss and mortality for its latest offering in the building’s main house. Spoonface Steinberg by Lee Hall takes us into the life and mind of a young autistic girl who has terminal cancer, whilst Beckett considers the immediacy of death from the perspective of a 69-year-old man, unable to stop himself from looking back over his life.

Points of view are contrasted in this double bill. Spoonface, by the writer of Billy Elliot, deals with the difficult subject of life being cut unduly short, yet there is a strong sense of optimism in this simple and straightforward piece. Hall strips death of all pretension; there is something starkly real about Pippa Duffy’s innocent Spoonface. Duffy engages well with the tricky combination of innocence and awareness that Spoonface grapples with throughout the piece, prefiguring Krapp, who is torn between looking forwards and getting lost in the past.

As with any monologue, the challenge here was always going to be to create a visual life. Delivered direct to the audience by Duffy, Spoonface felt deliberately static. The microphone stand on stage pays tribute to the piece’s conception as a radio play and reminds us of Spoonface’s own love of singing, but acts as a physical barrier between us and her. Activity was limited, as Spoonface gradually adds ornaments to her initially simplistic costume. This sketched out the progression of the narrative well, but at times Fabrice Serafino’s set design and Katherine Williams’s lighting became a little too interesting in the quest for something to draw the eye. However, Duffy is believable as a seven-year-old, and delivers many lines with a wry understanding of adult behaviour, revealing that when doctors smile, “it means there’s something wrong”.

Krapp’s Last Tape was also brought to life behind the physical barrier of a desk laden with a hefty tape recorder and boxes of tapes. However, Alan Williams brought this claustrophobic environment beautifully to life with a performance alive with a delicious staccato rhythm that kept the audience guessing throughout. Pauses were relished, as they should be, and frenetic activity matched with more laid back, languid moments. Williams’s pacing is pitch perfect throughout, and entertains with a banana as proficiently as he haunts with his staring, empty eyes. He embodies Krapp’s staunch need for control in every movement, every word, and is genuinely quite mesmerising. The sense of space and situation was particularly strong here, with Krapp’s ventures off stage to pop a cork and pour a drink evoking an eerie sense of his entire house within the auditorium.

An evening perhaps not of high drama but certainly of questions and emotions. Two insightful pieces into the human mind and the human condition; Spoonface may have benefitted from a little more movement and freedom, but it set up an interesting contrast to the wave-like fluidity of Beckett’s text, and both certainly tackled troubling topics head-on.

Spoonface Steinberg and Krapp’s Last Tape were at Hull Truck Theatre.

Image credit: Hull Truck

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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