Jodie Dorday tells Dionne Christian how a call out of the blue saw her abandoning life in Indonesia for the Auckland theatre.

Tropical Bali and a grim Northern English mining town: they're a world away from one another, but they collided when Jodie Dorday auditioned for Billy Elliot the Musical.

Last seen in New Zealand in the TV comedy Burying Brian, actor and dancer Dorday was living on the Indonesian holiday island with her husband, Troy, and 4-year-old son, Jackson. For eight months, she'd managed front-of-house and booked acts for Mint Club and Terrace, a favourite late-night venue for holidaying revellers.

Then she received word from Auckland Theatre Company that they were interested in having her audition for Billy's beloved dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson.

"There I was, in Bali, quite relaxed and enjoying days that began by jumping on a scooter and going off to get fresh coconut first thing in the morning and it all changed," Dorday says. "I knew if I auditioned and got the role, it was more than about doing a gig. It was about moving back to New Zealand."


The role was made famous in the 2000 film by Julie Walters, who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and won a Bafta. Dorday's mum, the legendary dancer and founder of Burgundy's cabaret, Debbie, was holidaying with the family and convinced her daughter to go for it.

Dorday filmed an audition video in the villa in Bali, with Debbie, Troy and stepfather Mike putting on their best Geordie accents to play various other characters in Billy Elliot.

"Then ATC said they needed to hear me sing and I went through the whole nerves and 'do I really want to do this?' thing all over again. I sat around for another few days in the sun and struggled to think how I could get the audition down without direction ... I listened to the West End production and recorded myself."

Offered the role, Dorday endured further nerves and "five days of hell", questioning whether packing up laid-back life on Bali and returning to Auckland was the right move. Now she's back; the show has started and Dorday, who made her professional debut with ATC in Dancing at LughNasa in 2001, doesn't know how she stayed away from the stage for so long.

Jodie Dorday (centre back) with some of the young dancers in ATC's production of Billy Elliott. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Jodie Dorday (centre back) with some of the young dancers in ATC's production of Billy Elliott. Photo / Jason Oxenham

But it's been a demanding re-introduction to the stage; Dorday has to sing, dance and "act against" her emotions in scenes that veer from violent and confrontational to triumphant and uplifting.

Set during the miners' strikes in 1980s Britain, Billy Elliot is about a regular 11-year-old who accidentally discovers he prefers ballet to boxing. It creates tension with his macho father and older brother, who are on the frontlines of the battle to keep their jobs, but, with the support of his beloved teacher Mrs Wilkinson, Billy wins them over and gains the support and respect of his entire community.

Based on the movie, Billy Elliot the Musical was written by Lee Hall with music by the legendary Elton John.

Dorday says Mrs Wilkinson is an outsider, as she's not immediately part of the tight-knit mining community, but she has her own issues to face including dealing with an alcoholic husband who's been having an affair.


While much publicity has focused on the six boys sharing the role of Billy and his best friend, Michael, the adult cast includes Stephen Lovatt as Billy's dad Jackie, Rima Te Wiata as Billy's grandma and new graduate Jack Barry as Billy's brother. Fourteen young ballerinas rotate the roles of the girls in Billy's ballet classes and Black Grace dancer Daniel Cooper plays the older Billy.

The musical is the debut production at ATC's new home, the ASB Waterfront Theatre, so Dorday is well aware it's a history-making moment.

"It's a perfect show to launch a new theatre. It's about having a dream and believing in it and it's also about the importance of community and pulling together, which is a lot like making a show as spectacular as this."

What: Billy Elliot the Musical

Where and when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until November 27.