Sitting Down with Mrs. Wilkinson from Billy Elliot

**This is cross-posted from Sound+Noise**

A star ballet dancer emerging from a coal-mining town. Sound impossible? That’s what Billy Elliot The Musical – based on the book by Lee Hall – is all about. With music by Elton John, Billy Elliot is sure to delight and inspire Edmonton audiences this month.

Sound + Noise had the opportunity to ask Janet Dickinson, who plays the inspiring dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, a few questions about Billy Elliot and why she got involved.

1. How did you get involved in Billy Elliot? Were you excited about this particular role? Why did you want to be involved?

It’s a fantastic show, and I knew it was a great role when I first saw it. I knew immediately that I wanted to play it. I understand this woman because I had this woman as a teacher growing up. When the audition came around, I prepared for it in all aspects and just really went after it with both guns. I was thrilled to get the part.

2. Despite the play taking place during Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, many of the social circumstances are similar to today’s. What sort of research did you do to prepare for this role?

There is a lot of information and some really great documentaries out there about the strike in 1984 so I was able to read stuff online and even watch some clips from YouTube. I belong to a union so it is something I can relate to and many people in the U.S. can relate to as well.

It is interesting that we are having some similar conversations in the U.S. right now. There are groups of people coming down on unions and forgetting why they were established and how draconian working conditions used to be. It wasn’t so long ago. The coal miner’s union in the U.K. was only established in 1945.

Samantha Blaire Cutler (Debbie), Janet Dickinson (Mrs. Wilkinson) and Ben Cook (Billy) in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Photo by Doug Blemker

Samantha Blaire Cutler (Debbie), Janet Dickinson (Mrs. Wilkinson) and Ben Cook (Billy) in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Photo by Doug Blemker

3. There’s not a lot of information about Mrs. Wilkinson, at least in the screenplay that I read. What do you think motivates her?

That’s interesting. I think it is best when you don’t have a lot of information because you have to create it. You have to read the play and say the lines.  No one should tell you where that motivation comes from. If you are a smart enough actor, you should be able to figure it out on your own.

Mrs. Wilkinson’s motivation comes from a combination of things. Her own dreams and aspirations were dashed. She provably wanted to be a dancer and went to London to pursue that career. She came back to a small town and found herself in a situation – pregnant, probably. When she sees this kid come into her class, she has to push him, especially considering what the community is going through at this time.

The writing is on the wall for the miners. Things are going down and changing drastically. She sees the chance for this one kid who stumbles into her class to follow his dreams. And it’s a small window of time for a kid. As you get older, those doors close. She sees that this kid can get out of this situation and have a life that is fulfilling doing what he wants to do.

4. Mrs. Wilkinson says “this is important” about Billy’s dancing… Why?

It’s not unlike the scene with Dad where she says to him, “He’s got a chance. Your son is gifted.” It’s important because as adults we want something wonderful for kids – like all the kids in the cast. You hope that they are going to pursue what they love.

It’s important for each generation to cultivate that for the younger generation so things get better. We always want the next generation to have it better.

5. What is your favorite moment of the production? Why?

There is no scene that I don’t really enjoy in this show. “The Letter” scene is wonderful because you can hear a pin drop. It doesn’t get more poignant than reading a letter from a mother to her child…

That’s just one of them. I love every moment on stage because Mrs. Wilkinson is so flawed and it’s fun to play her. It’s fun to figure it out at every performance.

Billy Elliot The Musical runs March 19 to 24 at the Jubilee Auditorium. Tickets are $45 – $110.

– Jenna Marynowski

There are 3 comments

  1. Chad

    At least as far as the movie is concerned, my favorite scene is where Billy’s father finally breaks down and decides to do what is right for Billy. To me, that was powerful.


    1. jennamarynowski

      Thanks for the comment, Chat. That definitely was a powerful scene. I also liked the scene where the older brother – the tough miner – stood up for Billy.


  2. Chad

    I never thought his brother was ever going to come around to supporting him. Really the whole dynamic of the family was well written. I do not see how any can watch the movie or the stage production and not be affected by it in some way.


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