Annette draws on her own experience to help Billy

Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot
Kings Youth Theatre in rehearsal for Loserville at The Kings, Southsea, from July 21-24. Imogen Thomas, centre. Picture by Anne Dobeson

Kings Youth Theatre asks: Who are you calling a loser? 

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When it came to portraying Mrs Wilkinson, Billy Elliot’s ballet teacher, Annette McLaughlin was able to draw on her own experience.

An experienced performer in the West End where she has played Mrs Wormwood in Matilda, Velma Kelly in Chicago and Erma in Anything Goes among others, Annette has been part of the hit show’s touring cast since February last year. But before that, ballet had been her passion.

‘I was at the Royal Ballet School – I was a junior associate, so I was about eight/nine. I was there for two years, I’d go twice a week and then to my local ballet school as well.

‘I desperately wanted to be a ballerina, that’s all I wanted to do, but I’m pretty tall and I kept growing, so it was obvious I was going to be the tallest corps de ballet ever, so that wasn’t going to work out.

‘I went to Central School of Ballet for a while, then I went to a place called London Studio School in Kings Cross which was like the kids from Fame, and I just thought, “Oh my god, this is for me!” and ended up training there for three years.

‘I came out of college and straight into Crazy for You and lots of musicals, but then managed to do a bit of retraining with acting and have worked in all sorts of different places, like the Royal Shakespeare Company and straight plays, so I get to do a bit of everything.’

Annette McLaughlin who plays Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot

Annette McLaughlin who plays Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot

The musical is based on the 2000 film which charts Billy’s journey out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family and whole community and changes his life forever.

The show is brought to life by the award-winning creative team behind the film including writer Lee Hall (book and lyrics), director Stephen Daldry, and choreographer, Peter Darling, joined by Elton John who composed the show’s score.

Annette was more than familiar with the film and musical, so when the opportunity to star in it came up she jumped at the chance.

‘It’s something if it came on TV I’d watch it because I love it and I was lucky enough to see this production in the West End at the beginning and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s one of the best British musicals I think I’ve ever seen. It really does give musicals a good name - it’s written so well, directed so well, the choreography is out of this world and then on top of that there’s Elton John’s music. In every sense it’s a brilliant piece of storytelling,

It’s one of the best British musicals I think I’ve ever seen. It really does give musicals a good name

Annette McLaughlin

‘I definitely wanted to play this part so it’s a bit of a dream come true for me.’

Taking on the role also meant stepping into some fairly big shoes - Julie Walters won a Bafta and was Oscar nominated for the film role.

‘She’s a legend, I’ve been a fan of hers as long as I can remember. I thought she was brilliant in the movie but when it comes to playing a part yourself you approach it from your point of view and you sit down with a script afresh.

‘I’m not trying to copy what she did. You make comparisons to yourself and there’s a lot of my old dance teachers wrapped into Mrs Wilkinson, and a lot of my pain in not getting accepted into the Royal Ballet School wrapped up in there. You go with who you are and your life and your approach as an actor.

‘And also the writing is amazing – you don’t really need to do anything else.’

Billy Elliot

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

February 7-March 4

mayflower.org.uk