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 Post subject: Re: Easington/Dawdon Mar 2017+Easington/BETM UK tour 2016 trips
PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2017 12:21 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 14, 2011 11:54 pm
Posts: 6791
From the Sunderland Echo:

Stories of Easington was spread through Easington last year with a variety of after dark events full of lights, brass, dance, crafts, art, stories, remembrance, hot broth and magic in Easington Colliery. ... -1-8326046

 Post subject: Visits to Easington & Dawdon during Billy Elliot UK Tour
PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2017 12:33 am 
Tall Boy

Joined: Tue May 03, 2016 11:18 pm
Posts: 108
Location: Sheffield, UK
Whilst seeing BETM in Sunderland last April, I spent a day or two in Newcastle, which has now become one of my favourite cities to visit in the UK. I find port cities so vibrant in the artistic sense, but also a little “scuzzy” as my friend terms it. Looking that one up in a dictionary, I see what she means and that's partly why I like it so much.

The Blood Brothers UK tour was playing there last week, so I struggled to get one of the few tickets left for Thursday 16th March. Whilst not about dancing per se, nevertheless I feel most BETM fans will love this show – gritty, raw, social conflict themes, humorous yet far more tragic than Billy's tale. The veteran actress Lyn Paul was playing the iconic Mrs Johnstone. The cast received a thunderous standing ovation at the end.

I resolved to revisit Easington Colliery again on the Wednesday whilst the BETM tour is still actively playing, which became especially poignant now that I had booked the March 18th matinee in Birmingham as well.

On the Thursday, in the daytime before Blood Brothers I visited Dawdon for the first time.

Some people maybe find Easington a little depressing, losing it's main reason to exist as a result of the pit there closing in 1994. However, I find it has an eerie charm with its dramatic vistas of the North Sea and coast. Not many Edwardian terraced streets have a sea view like they have here. As the weather was much better than last year, I took lots of photos with blue skies. I have posted some examples on Florian's facebook General Fan Page. If would like to see more, send me a friend request (Andrew Shaw). I'll not reprint the very detailed description as in my earlier post, but the first thing that hits you is the sense of calm. Very few people are walking the streets at any one time, the only noises were barking dogs, parents being off-hand with their children inside the houses, to give a few examples. I noticed it could get quite windy here, not surprising given its coastal location. Despite a lot of the houses being empty - there is very little graffiti and the town seems to be reasonably well kept with the grassed areas all recently tidied.

It is so sad that many of the houses are empty. Rubbish gets dumped in the vacant back yards, the local Community Action Teams frantically trying to clear up are only partly succeeding. Many people left after the pit closed in 1994 with “problem families coming in and not getting on with the local older people” as Jill put it – she owns the Fish and Chip shop in the centre of the village where I bought my lunch. Jill said “have you just moved in love?”- I explained that I was a Billy Elliot fan. So tourists are easy to spot here. She was neither impressed nor scornful of my admission. She nevertheless strikes me as a very thoughtful, respectful person – I would have spoken longer but my food was getting cold. Looks like she can only keep the shop open by doing all the cooking and serving single-handedly.

There is a lack of new development in the area, despite some very new houses being built in Easington Village, a mile or so away up the hill, further from the sea.

I think it is inevitable there will be further demolitions in the area as more people move out. Billy Elliot was filmed in the more impressive steeper A streets (their names beginning with that letter). For the first time I walked round the B and C estates not used in the film. More streets have been demolished here and there are signs of arson and more houses boarded up with metal grills.

Don't be put off – it does feel like that Billy and Michael will pirouette into view at any moment. At no time did I feel unsafe. People here are genuinely friendly and helpful, a legacy from the close community spirit that marked the old pit communities. As I walked up the main street, aptly called Seaside Lane, I encountered some school pupils returning home. One boy called his friend (jokingly) a “fat f**ny”. I wonder where he got that from? At least it shows theatre patrons complaining about the swearing are unjustified and the use of such language in the show adds to its authenticity.

Although green grass is all that is left of Alnwick and Andrew Streets (where Billy and Michael respectively lived), the former bingo hall facing the bottom of the alleyway between these two streets with its distinctive red doors, visible in the film, is still standing. Luckily, it is still possible to find another example of an almost identical alleyway - that of the one between Angus and Argent Streets, that stands a short distance away nearer the sea.

My visit to Dawdon the following day was my first visit ever. It is possible to take the 60 bus from Sunderland, but I went on the Hexham to Nunthorpe Northern Rail service which reaches Seaham station in less than 10 minutes. Seaham is a minor resort with a pretty high street, church and seafront/harbour. Dawdon sits above as a separate community of terraced houses from around a century ago with a grid-like layout. It takes around 20 minutes walk from the station to reach the streets where Billy Elliot was filmed and about the same time to walk downhill to the waterfront.

Dawdon is the location of the Miners Welfare Hall in the film (interior shots were filmed in Hanwell, London) which is located in a quiet residential street called Mount Stewart St. However, the most iconic locations are the streets up which Billy does his Angry Dance in the film. These are Embleton Street and also the alleyway between this street and Stavordale Street West, the end of which in the film was blocked off with a rusty corrugated iron sheet. However in real life the alley is fully open to the street at the top end which it meets at right angles. In the film, one can see garages built into the high brick walls separating the alleyway from the gardens at both sides. It is tempting to believe that the producers asked the residents to clear the alleyway. However on the day I visited it was as quiet as in the film. Unlike Easington, this streets looks much better maintained and very few houses were empty. The reason for this quietness is that residents seem to prefer parking on the street in front of their houses and only ever go through their back garden wall door to put their rubbish bins out - which seems to have happened on the day James Lomas shot his very brief Youtube clip (see the link in the earlier posting on this thread).

Perhaps I should point out a bit of artistic licence is used in the shooting of the Angry Dance sequence in the film. The start of the dance, where Billy shows Michael his tap dancing skills, was filmed in Easington. He then jumps off the outhouse roof and runs around the corner and as if by magic appears limping up Embleton Street, six miles away literally seconds later!!

Dawdon has a very similar feel to Easington, but due to the good range of amenities in neighbouring Seaham manages to avoid dereliction on the whole.

It was very interesting to walk to the bottom of Stavordale Street. The sea view visible in the film is completed blocked when you reach the bottom as a very steep 40 feet high railway embankment comes into view. I assume this also acts as a defensive sea wall to protect the houses from flooding.

In summary, this trip might be outside the comfort zone of many fans. But consider visiting, especially If you are staying in Newcastle, Sunderland or Durham. I know Henry Farmer and James Lomas have done it also privately. During the Sunderland run, Haydn, most of the leading adults and Lee Hall visited to present a cheque to Easington Social Welfare Centre - proceeds of the collection at the VPT on the West End closing night.

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