“AFTER the West End production, and then the various international versions, this is seen as the definitive version of the show.”

I’m backstage at the Birmingham Hippodrome on a disarmingly sunny Friday afternoon in March, and actor Scott Garnham is showing myself and a group of theatre bloggers around the ‘backstage village’ of the first ever UK Tour of Stephen Daldry’s hugely successful Billy Elliot the Musical.

“It’s just great to get to be a part of it.”

Garnham plays older brother Tony in the show, and the pride that Scott the actor has for being part of this special show is easily on par with that of his character’s impassioned anti-Thatcherism.

It’s understandable, too; earlier this month I gave the show my first ever 6-star review, calling it ‘quite simply one of the best things you could hope to see on stage’.

Getting to explore the behind-the-scenes of the show is a wonderfully discordant affair - high-tech industrial carbon dioxide canisters (for ‘heavier’ fog) stand within feet of deliberately makeshift Margaret Thatcher wigs, whilst a terrifying puppet effigy of the Iron Lady looms ominously over the stage manager’s monitor hub. 

A pair of seemingly innocuous sweat pants reveal secret in-leg microphones to help pick up the clicks and sounds of tap dancing.

Next to a self-contained sound booth for additional chorus singing sit two piles of elasticated tutus hanging around a pair of aluminium bars, which we are told were thrown together at the last minute when the production team realised they had nowhere to hang the end-of-the-show essentials.

The earthy, northern grit and realism of Billy Elliot meets the almost intimidating technical wizardry of modern theatre here, and it makes for a veritable Aladdin’s cave of mini anecdotes and Wizard of Oz ‘man behind the curtain’ moments.

And, as ever with the Hippodrome, the cast and crew are singing the praises of just how spacious it all is, a luxury which has seen Billy take up a two-month residency at the theatre where other venues have had to miss out.

“There are places we wanted to go that we couldn’t, just because there wasn’t enough space backstage, or in some cases there just weren’t enough dressing rooms!”

It’s hardly surprising - for a show which isn’t as overtly showy on set piece and spectacle as, say, Wicked or Miss Saigon (to cite two upcoming productions at the Hippodrome), Billy Elliot nevertheless employs a veritable army of talent and support, mostly to accommodate its biggest (and smallest!) stars - the incredible young talent involved. 

In addition to the usual crew, stage hands, company management and other theatre essentials, the creatives behind Billy clearly put a huge emphasis on supporting and nurturing the incredible younger stars who work on the show. In addition to parents and chaperones, the production employs two full-time teachers to assist with education, as well as having specialist teachers at each venue or available on hand over Skype to ensure that the Billys, Michaels and Debbies of the production are getting a full, rounded experience that isn't impeding their academia in any way.

It’s a tradition which dates back to the initial West End run, and an approach that is particularly important here as, unlike many touring musicals who pluck from local talent as they move around the Country, Billy’s four leads and roster of supporting youths go with the show to every venue for the entirety of its run.

And even when they each get ‘home leave’ once every four weeks, they are expected to return to their own schools to carry on learning.

In fact, aside from when an evening’s designated ‘standby’ Billy is off ‘watching DVD’s in his dressing room’ (or, even better, at the nearby hotel), it’s a full-on, intensive process.

“You can only do this if this is what you want. It takes up your entire life.”

Resident choreographer Jeroen Luiten takes us through the intensive auditioning and training process for the show, and later the cycle of rehearsals, practises, fine-tuning and warm-ups that interweave with each young actors’ performance and study schedule like a well-oiled machine.

“We test them first at audition. If we see something, if they have a base in technique or a real sparkle, we send them away to their own schools with assignments and then see them again.”

“If they’ve made the necessary improvements, they go into summer school with us, which is two to three weeks, and we very intensely train them.”

Even then though, there is no guarantee that a young actor will become part of the show.

“There is then an audition at the end of those three weeks, and if they pass that they go into a six month rehearsal period, where we cover everything.”

For Luiten, it makes motivation and endurance the essential ingredients in being part of the Bllly Elliot process.

“I think the main thing that the Billy's need to have in particular is drive.

Because it is 6 days a week. They go to school at 9am and finish at 6pm when they’re rehearsing, and when the show is running they finish at half ten at night and have to be back in for school the next morning.

If they cannot commit a full 100% in the period that we see them, if they are not 100% driven - and that is something that you can usually tell pretty fast - they will not get through our rehearsal process.”

Intensive, and indeed extensive, it makes the incredible discipline and performances that the young stars display in the show nothing short of remarkable.

And if any of it sounds excessive, there’s clearly an incredible amount of love and care, not to mention professionalism and precision, when it comes to making sure that the youth of Billy Elliot are being well looked after.

“It doesn’t stop when they leave the show, either.” explains Garnham, “There’s a full after-care programme where they look after former Billys or Michaels and help them once they’ve finished.”

With alumni that includes 2016 Dance World Cup winner Elliot Hanna and new ‘Spider-Man’ / recent BAFTA-winner Tom Holland, it’s a process that is clearly working.

Getting to take a look behind the magic of Billy Elliot and hearing the full ins and outs of what makes this special show work only makes it even more impressive and admirable an achievement.

And that’s not even factoring in a whole truckload (quite literally) of impressive stats, figures and other behind-the-scenes nuggets that I haven’t even touched upon, such as 7 hours of daily laundry or the variety of different footwear each cast member has depending on whether they are dancing or moving set pieces.

But, as with the show as a whole, its in the tenacity, determination and resolve of its young stars that Billy Elliot’s real heart and glory lie, and the passion, hard work and dedication they put into the show behind-the-scenes seems just as exhilarating, exhausting and affirming an experience as what audiences are treated to on-stage. 

A selection of Kyle's behind-the-scenes photos from Billy Elliot the Musical:

Droitwich Advertiser:

The oversized dresses for the 'Expressing Yourself' number are actually lowered down onto the actors from above due to their size and weight!

Droitwich Advertiser:

Hidden details - a tiny microphone hidden within character costumes to pick up the sound of tap dancing.

Droitwich Advertiser:

More incredible attention to detail in recreating 'Billy's' Northern mining community is on display in the show's 'bar' set, only a tiny portion of which is seen in a corner of the stage!

Droitwich Advertiser:

Authentic 1980's detail right down to the most incidental of props.

Droitwich Advertiser:

Truly terrifying - the spectre of the Iron Lady quite literally hangs over the proceedings of 'Billy Elliot'.

BILLY ELLIOT is running at the BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME until SATURDAY 29 APRIL 2017.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Hippodrome and to book your tickets!


Alternatively, call Ticket Sales directly on 0844 338 5000 now to book your tickets!