We caught up with Scott Garnham who plays Billy Elliot’s on-stage brother, Tony to discuss his dancing challenges, favourite moments in the show and the importance of the brotherly relationship.
Who is Tony?
He’s Billy’s older brother. Unfortunately their mum passed away, the way we play it, three years ago. He’s a Union man, he’s been brought up that way because of his dad. He’s a staunch supporter of the miner’s strike.
Why do you think Tony’s relationship with Billy is so important?
At the start of the show Billy is, not a wild child, but he’s lost his way a bit, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that they’ve lost their mother. Tony thinks that their dad isn’t coping and becomes this disciplinarian of the family. Billy has this great opportunity to get away and there’s probably an element of jealousy in that from Tony.
Overall, what is the show about?
Billy Elliot is about this guy called Tony. Okay, no it’s not! It’s a story about overcoming adversity, but I think there are two stories that we’re trying to tell. The first one is about this young boy who discovers he has a natural gift for dancing and his journey to live his dream and get away from the town he lives in. The other which I think my character, Tony, is much more involved, is about trying to succeed with the miner strike. I think it’s important that we tell that story equally as much as Billy’s story of hope and ambition.
Do you see yourself in Tony at all?
There are parts of Tony that I do see in myself – he’s quite headstrong and maybe has a short fuse at times, which I can definitely relate to. Above anything else, he’s passionate, and I’d like to think that I am too. I’m passionate about the art we do every day and the stories we get to tell and I’m lucky enough to do that. There’s another side of him that I don’t see myself in – he’s a wild canon, and quite violent and I’ve never been in a fight in my life. Tony would beat me in a fight, I’ll put it that way!
So what’s it like with all the fight scenes then, if you’ve never had a fight, how have you been getting on with those?
I mean, I’d say they’ve been a challenge, but we have such great fight directors and creatives, and also I have a brother who’s three years older than me. So when I say I’ve never had a fight, I mean a proper fight. I’ve never physically thrown a punch to try to hurt somebody, I just don’t really understand that mentality.
Can you tell me about the little bits of dancing that your character has to do?
Dancing was a challenge, I’m not a trained dancer. The interesting thing about Billy Elliot The Musical is that the choreography is incredibly acting based– there’s intention behind what you’re doing and that makes it easier for an actor, but it can also make it a little bit harder because you don’t do what you’d call ‘generic steps’. At the end we do a little bit of tap, but I’m quite lucky it’s only a little bit. I wasn’t employed for my dance skills – I’ll put it that way!
What do you think it is about the choreography of the show that makes it so unique and special?
We’re trying to tell a story, we’re not just putting on dance routines to entertain. I remember thinking very early on that it was quite odd – Billy Elliot is the story about a boy who wants to dance and everyone’s against that, but then the whole town is singing and dancing. But then I realised what’s really happening is we see the world as Billy imagines it – everything is a movement, everything’s heightened in that sense. That’s what’s beautiful about the show, we have these heightened moments of choreography into really realistic, dramatic scenes.
What’s your favourite scene or musical number in the show?
My favourite scene in the show, selfishly, is what we call Pit Gates. It’s a moment in the show which we’ve actually changed and adapted for the tour version, it’s quite different to the version that was in London. There’s a great moment where the entire town turn their backs on Tony and people spit at him and it really helps my character because it makes the audience appreciate what he had to go through.
My favourite song has to be Solidarity – I just think it’s so amazingly well put together – acting, dancing, music, the lot.
As a performer, what do you think it actually takes to be Billy Elliot?
I’m always amazed at how they can find young boys who can do everything required to play Billy Elliot. It’s unbelievable when you watch them, not only are they very intuitive, smart, reactive little actors, but they’ve got these great singing voices. And to say that they ‘dance’ just doesn’t do it justice – they tap like you’ve never seen anyone tap before, they’re back flipping off pianos, we fly them around the stage and the ballet is incredible! We have, quite literally, four of the best young performers in the world.
What’s it like working with the four Billy’s?
It’s great – they’ve all got such different personalities and they all bring something very different to the role and the creatives encourage that – they don’t want carbon copies. Some have got some vulnerability, some have got a bit of an edge, some know that they’re good, not arrogantly, but confidently, and that brings a new lease to that leading man element – because they are the leading man ultimately.
What have your biggest challenges been with the show?
I think my biggest challenges in the show is the dancing, which is getting there I’m told – I was told very early on that I was one of the best ‘dancing Tony’s’ they’ve ever had, which is funny. The accent was hard, it’s quite a specific accent, but we had a great dialect coach.
What do you think the challenges of going on tour are?
Touring is always hard – I’m engaged and I don’t get to spend every night at home in my flat with my beautiful fiancée, which is a shame. But what I like about touring is that I find the audiences really, really appreciative of good theatre. The fact that this is the first time we’re taking it to different regions is really exciting and I hope that the audiences will be really up for it and really enjoy it.