Meet Mrs Wilkinson
We caught up with Annette McLaughlin who plays Mrs Wilkinson to find out how she connects with her character, Billy’s dance teacher, her challenges learning to skip and tap at the same time and what she thinks it takes to play Billy Elliot.
Who is Mrs Wilkinson?
Mrs Wilkinson is the dance teacher in the miner’s welfare in Easington, it’s a class full of girls who haven’t got a huge amount of talent and then one day this young boy, Billy Elliot walks into her class accidentally. She sees potential in him and she sees that he has a huge amount of talent and a passion for dance. I think he ignites something in her and she sort of becomes his mentor and a mother figure to him.
Why is her relationship with Billy so important?
I think because she believes in him and encourages him to follow his dreams and I think he opens up to her about his feelings. They sort of have a trust with each other, I don’t think he’s really been able to do that before.
How does Mrs Wilkinson fit into the community itself?
She’s kind of separate from the community, there’s a difference of class. She butts heads a little bit with Billy’s dad and with his brother. She’s separate but I think she does understand what’s going on. I think she’s looked at differently because she’s not the same as everybody else. She sees the focus in helping this boy achieve his dreams and potential.
Do you see yourself in Mrs Wilkinson at all?
I probably do, I desperately wanted to be a ballerina from age 3 and went to the Royal Ballet School as a junior. I’ve always had a passion for dance, and for whatever reason Mrs Wilkinson I think probably had those dreams as well and somewhere along the way something else got in the way, and she couldn’t quite fulfil those dreams. So I completely get all of that and the passion for dance. Then seeing this young boy and… I feel it myself I don’t have to act because when I see those brilliant talented boys being extraordinary on the stage; the first time I saw them do Electricity in the rehearsal room, I was an absolute mess because they were wonderful, and it’s that passion of dance and passion of what you love I think I really associate with her and with their journey together.
What sort of dancing do you have to do in the show?
I remember saying to our associate choreographer “she doesn’t dance does she? She just sort of stands and smokes doesn’t she?” This was before I started rehearsals when I got the job and she said “no, she does a massive dance number”. I’ve realised that now! It’s not just standing and smoking! There’s a massive number called “Born to Boogie” which is brilliant with Billy and Mr Braithwaite. There’s an awful lot of dancing in that, tapping and skipping probably being the trickiest and took me ages to learn. I nearly threw my skipping rope at the mirror 25 times!
What is it about the Choreography of the show that makes it so interesting?
I’m a massive fan of Peter Darling (Choreographer), I have been for years the man is a proper genius! Everything means something, every single step on the stage means something. I think one of the most extraordinary pieces in the show and of any musical is “Grandma’s song” and how that is choreographed. “Born to Boogie” as well, all the steps have a name and they all come from an acting point of view. Stuff that we do earlier on in the show then links up to “Electricity” that Billy does with things he’s already learnt, and Dream Ballet are things that she [Mrs Wilkinson] has taught him and you’ve seen us do in “Born to Boogie”. The choreography all comes from a ballet point of view but slightly twisted in places.
What do you think it takes to be Billy Elliot?
I don’t know, I’ve been trying for years and they won’t have me! It takes somebody really extraordinary, these kids are amazing, and I don’t say that lightly either. They are brilliant actors, brilliant dancers, brilliant singers. They’re professional, polite, funny, I don’t know how they find them! I do have to say as well the training that these kids get, they’re never treated like children, and they’re never talked down to. They’re respected and treated like actors. It’s been really inspiring watching the acting department and dance department work with them and watching them grow. They get the most amazing training in this show, they learn to be these wonderful performers not by being a robot, by really understanding why they’re saying things and what intention is in acting. That’s something really inspiring to watch.
What’s it like working with the Ballet Girls?
I’ve been working with 3 sets of Ballet Girls and 3 Debbie’s, who is Mrs Wilkinson’s daughter. The Debbie’s are hilarious, brilliant and so, so good! They’re so inspiring the kids, again they’ve been taught brilliantly by the creative team. Most of them have never been on stage, never worn a microphone, it’s all new and exciting to them. They’re brilliant, they get on with it and are professional. It’s been delightful!
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