Harriet Walker: 'What a song and dance! I need to conquer my fear of musicals'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I was supposed to go to the filming of The Million Pound Drop last week, the live TV game show in which contestants answer questions to win £1m in cash by placing it on (they hope) the trap door marked with the correct answer. But I missed the show because I didn't get out of work in time. So, in order to slake the thirst of my demons who demand live entertainment wherever possible, I decided to see Billy Elliot: The Musical (inset below) instead.

I loved the film – or "fillum" as they say in Billy's native Easington – and know a lot of people who have enjoyed the stage version. And they're not the sort who'd go and see Les Mis; these are people who don't like to wash down their political history with three lumps of Canderel.

That's the reason I hate musicals. I find it hard enough to suspend my disbelief when someone pays me a compliment, let alone when people have an entire conversation in verse. The notion of Victorian orphans, for example, trilling their woes strikes me as nostalgic in all the wrong ways.

So, from Million Pound Drop to the miners' strike, the backdrop to Billy Elliot and the real-life gamble in which Margaret Thatcher chose not to throw £1m (and the rest) down a hole. The miners themselves are rendered in as rose-tinted a way as 19th-century child poverty, although some real "grit" is thrown in by way of swearing and Geordie accents that waver between Canadian and Afrikaans.

Against the gritty backdrop, some light relief is provided by a scene in a working men's club which features an impromptu knees-up entitled "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher", with dozens of Spitting Image masks and an enormous deus ex machina puppet of the lady herself. I'll admit to tapping my feet at this point, if only because I love a bit of anachronistic Thatcher-bashing as much as the next girl who can't really remember her reign of terror. (The clearest memory I have of her is my four-year-old self being laid low with chickenpox the night she resigned, and my parents jubilantly sponging me down with an old flannel.)

But that was the only impact Billy Elliot: The Musical had on me, as I realised that, while a hundred Middle Englanders were clapping along, the real-life, ailing 85-year-old was lying ill just down the road in the Belgravia Hospital. It's quite possible that Billy Elliot may outlive her – will the show go on when she dies, or will they have to have a night off out of respect?

I hope not – I may hate musicals, but I hate misplaced sentiment even more.