Billy Elliot opens with the projection of black and white documentary/newsreel footage onto a large screen which is suspended within the proscenium arch of the stage. The film is genuine footage of the miners’ strike and shows both police and workforce in situations of protest, conflict and division. As the film extracts conclude, The screen drops to the stage floor to reveal the basic set. During the production, this set is manoeuvred hydraulically into a number of different positions to suit the action of the piece.
Essentially elements of the basic set were very realistic impressions of both interior and exterior buildings in the mining community. The centrepiece is the Community Hall, complete with stage where much of the action is focused. The set at Stage Right and Stage Left is largely a realistic reconstruction of the hall’s interior. There are windows along each wall and at Stage Left there is a small bar. The colours used for the interior are drab and muted.
At Downstage Right is a rounded exterior construction with double doors. The suggestion is of rendered brickwork painted in a faded red and it looks like the entrance to a public house. Although it is obviously an exterior, the actors often use it as an entrance and exit from the Community Hall. At one point it becomes the entrance to Mrs Wilkinson’s home. During this scene a snow effect was well-managed as Billy’s father waited in the street to attempt making peace with the dance teacher.
At Stage left is a cutaway section which reveals the kitchen of a typical terraced house of the period. The units are painted a bright tangerine and all the utensils and fittings are genuine. This is a completely realistic feature of the set. To help suggest the hardship that the miners are experiencing, there is little food in the kitchen. The attention to detail in this realistic set extends to the designer allowing for the viewpoint of individuals sitting in the Grand Circle as we were. Seen from above, all the walls in cross-section were sculpted and coloured to closely resemble genuine brickwork.
At the Upstage end of the hall is a small stage. A pair of swing doors positioned centrally, allow characters to enter the hall. At Stage left is a piano. There are small windows placed at either side of the doors which are framed with faded curtains. A row of coat pegs are positioned at Stage Right and are used by the dancing class when they change. Steps connect this stage to the main floor of the hall. The hall is seen as the base for the boxing club and the dance class, it is also the focus for all social gatherings including the Christmas Party. The floor looks to be constructed from parquet and its herring bone pattern is distinctive.
When the action of the production requires it, the walls of the hall can be withdrawn to Stage Right and Stage Left and the hall stage can be neatly separated. This is managed hydraulically using a groove system. The system allows the basic set to return precisely to the position seen at the opening of the show. The small stage is moved from Downstage to an Upstage position during the opening of the second act.
As the realistic set is withdrawn, a false stage setting is lowered into position from the fly tower. This conceals the hall interior and creates the impression of an almost empty stage. To add to this impression a lighting bar is also lowered into position upstage. This was most noticeable during the audition scene. The basic impression generated by the fixed set is that of a rundown community. All the colours are generally faded and fittings look old and worn. The furniture in the hall is shabby, the piano looks battered. There are no bright colours to create a zing point.