Billy Elliot is completing a tour, which starts again on Tuesday 30 May in Milton Keynes. Having recently stepped up to temporarily take over from Tamsin Outhwaite in Stepping Out, Anna-Jane Casey is playing the role of Mrs Wilkinson and she kindly gave an exclusive interview to Break A Leg…
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Anna-Jane – so you’re appearing as Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot the musical…
Yes, it’s a part I’ve played before as I appeared as Mrs Wilkinson in the West End too. I’m playing her at Milton Keynes Theatre and then in Hamburg.
What do you particularly enjoy about the show, have you any favourite songs or moments?
I enjoy working with the different ‘Billys’, they all bring some different to the role and they’re all so talented. My favourite moment is when Billy shows his letter from his mum to Mrs Wilkinson. It makes me cry, I’m a big softie and I cry at anything!
What do you think are the strengths of Mrs Wilkinson’s character?
On the face of it Mrs Wilkinson is dressed like a parrot for a start off, you know those kind of women they’re not posh or loaded but they like to spruce up when they go out. In those sad times of heartbreak and uncertainty this is a woman who must have walked into a room and looked like she had fairy lights on her – so it’s nice to be that loud a character. The story of Mrs Wilkinson is that she’s a failed dancer and she nearly got a job in the West End but didn’t quite get there so she went back to her home town and she’s got this school, now. She comes across as though she’s hard but every day she goes to that dance class and hopes that there’ll be one little spark of genius and she finds that in Billy. As brusque and as brash as you think she is on the surface she’s always thinking “please god let someone be good today” and that’s nice to play, the hard outside and the soft inside.
Do you find something different in the character every time you play her?
Oh definitely, while I’m away I facetime my two daughters and I was facetiming them last night as I was pulling on another lycra leotard and my blue spangled hot pants and my daughter said “oh my god mummy, what have you got on?”. In the eighties that’s what people used to wear, of course but it’s great to reveal that outfit every night and hear the audience go “sweet Jesus”. Also the kids are amazing around you, you get a real buzz from them.
You popped quickly into Stepping Out to play Mavis, how was that experience?
Tamsin’s (Outhwaite) a very old friend of mine, we did Grease together before she was a TV star so when she found out that she’d broken her foot, my sister Natalie was already in the show and I know the director very well so it was one of those moments where my sister had said “why don’t you ring AJ?” and Tamsin had said “ring AJ she’s the only one I know who could do it in a week!”. So I had a week’s rehearsal and it was brilliant working with my sister, we had a right laugh, but it was a flash in the pan because I was only going to be there for a month because I was due to start in Billy Elliot. It’s one of those moments that I’m going to look back on when we get to New Year’s Eve and think “bloody hell I managed to learn a show in a week!”. Amanda Holden is one of the nicest women on the planet and brilliant, she really is, I’d never worked with her before and she was heavenly.
Going back to 2015, you appeared in Mack and Mabel which I didn’t get to see but I read amazing reviews for…
I did the show previously, a good fifteen years ago I played Mabel, the main part. This time I played Lottie and the lovely Michael Ball was in the show. It was nice to do the show playing the secondary female lead, I couldn’t have played Mabel people would have said “what’s that old woman doing?” and it was a very different production as when I played Mabel years ago it was an actor-muso show and we all had different instruments to play. I was given percussion which was hilarious, so I was clanging and banging at the back! So it was nice do the show and not have to have the responsibility of playing one of the title roles but also to perform that big number (Tap Your Troubles Away) which I’ve known for years and I performed at a prom with the John Wilson Orchestra a couple of years ago.
Finally, what would you say to encourage people to come and see Billy Elliot?
It’s still very politically true and it’s totally in our consciousness, we’re about to have a general election and the gap between what the Conservative party believe and what the Labour party believe at the time that the show was written it is the same. You had Margaret Thatcher on one side and Labour on the other who were fighting so hard for the Unions and we’re still fighting those battles today. I think the show has got real heart and it’s a show that will give you a brilliant story and the children are phenomenal. Any show where kids are swearing is hilarious, so come and see these brilliant kids saying the F word!
I’d like to thank Anna-Jane for a great interview, such a delight to chat to her (I’ve been a fan for years!) and wishing her and the rest of cast all the best for the rest of the Billy Elliot tour.