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January 25, 2010


A young dancer from Kingswood is in the running to play Billy Elliot in the smash hit musical.

Sixty boys turned out to audition in the city for the prestigious role at the weekend. The boys, aged between nine and 13, came from across the South West to try out for the part of either Billy or Michael. One even travelled from Portugal for an audition.

The 60 youngsters were quickly whittled down to a shortlist of eight, including Freddie Gunningham, 10, from Kingswood, and Marcus May, nine, of Saltford. They will find out if they are still in with a chance later this week.

It was the first time the auditions for the London production have been staged in Bristol. They took place in Bristol Grammar School in University Road.

Jessica Ronane, children’s casting director, said: “We do these auditions all over the place but thought ‘we haven’t been to Bristol yet, so let’s go there’. The boys have been lovely here.”

The Bristol auditions are just the first step on the long road to being cast.

The eight boys who made the shortlist on Saturday were recalled to a second audition later the same day. They had to transfer from the grammar school to Cotham Church, Cotham Road, to sing, dance and act all over again for the Billy team, which included resident director Nick Evans.

If any of the boys are successful they will be recalled to audition in London. From there, those going for the part of Billy must attend a summer school training centre, funded by the production, but may not be cast even after the gruelling process.

Ms Ronane said: “We’ve got boys training at the moment and we add to that group constantly.”

Freddie, a pupil of Two Mile Hill School who attends Junior Associates of the Royal Ballet, has been dancing since he was five years old. He said: “My sister Hannah did tap and I started to make up my own dances. “My mum and dad said I would have to go to dance school and I went to Stapleton School of Dance from the age of five.

“My mates don’t say anything bad about it; they know dancing is for boys and girls and they feel quite good about what I do.

“I have seen the Billy Elliot film and I liked it. I would love to perform as Billy Elliot, it would be amazing. Dancing makes me feel like I want to carry on and not stop.”

Freddie, who also attends the pre-vocational programme at Elmhurst School of Dance in Birmingham, hopes to be a professional dancer.

He has already appeared in Bristol, Bath and Birmingham theatre productions of Hello Dolly, Evita, Joseph, The Dream and The Nutcracker.

Freddie’s parents, Tina, 54, and Andy, 46, said he takes after his sister, Hannah, 14, who is in her second year at the Royal Ballet school in Birmingham.

Mr Gunningham, a firefighter, said: “I still get ribbed at work for it but Freddie doesn’t get bullied at school, which is good.”

Marcus played Chip in Beauty and the Beast in Bath just before Christmas.

His mum, Stephanie May, 39, who used to be a top gymnast herself and now coaches toddlers at Bristol Hawks Gymnastics in Lower Easton, said watching Marcus perform was “nerve wracking”.

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