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Henry Farmer - Lancashire’s Billy Elliot star

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 July 2017

Henry Farmer

Henry Farmer

Archant

At the tender age of 12, actor Henry Farmer has been on the road and away from home for many months. Now he’s heading home. Catherine Smyth went to meet him

Henry Farmer with his parents, Julie and Paul Farmer Henry Farmer with his parents, Julie and Paul Farmer

THE curtain will come down on the first touring production of Billy Elliot The Musical this month and for one 12-year-old Lancashire lad that means sleeping in his own bed and a return to lessons at Haslingden High.

Henry Farmer will have played Michael, Billy’s best mate in 13 different venues, all over England as well as Cardiff, Dublin and Hamburg. He performed on stage in front of 3,000 people in Edinburgh and will have spent three quarters of the last 20 months away from his family and friends.

It’s bitter-sweet for Henry. He telephoned his mother Julie, 48, to ask: ‘What am I going to do when it ends? I am going to lose all my brothers and sisters.’

As an only child, Henry suddenly found himself on the road in an unfamiliar environment, regularly relocating, but with an extrended ‘family’ of other young cast members. He’d become used to having ‘siblings’.

Henry Farmer Henry Farmer

His journey with the Billy cast began in November 2015 when he joined for 13-weeks training and the show has literally been on the road since February 2016. During that time Henry has lived out of a suitcase, fetching his washing home to mum every three weeks. The suitcase has almost become another piece of furniture.

‘I will be glad when I no longer have to pack it,’ said Julie. ‘He comes home and wants everything washed because when he has to leave again he wants everything to smell of home.’

Four actors play Michael and, together with the other three, Henry was honoured to win the award for Best Young Newcomer in the Manchester Theatre Awards. Sadly, it was his turn to be on stage when the awards were handed out so he missed his moment of glory.

‘Winning the award was really cool,’ said Henry. ‘We have all got on really well and that has been good fun.’ Henry described the relationship between the adult and child cast members as ‘just like a big family’.

Henry Farmer with Jemma Dransfield of Rossendale Dance and Drama Centre Henry Farmer with Jemma Dransfield of Rossendale Dance and Drama Centre

‘We have never pushed Henry into doing anything he didn’t want to do,’ explained his father Paul, a 49-year-old business development manager for a Leyland-based communications company.

‘He wanted to go for the role of Michael and throughout the run we have always said to him that if he ever wanted to walk away from it, we would support him.’

But rather than walk away, Henry has embraced the stage and mid-interview he suddenly jumps down from the stool and begins going through ballet moves.

He said: ‘When you go out on stage all you can see is the lights and the first two rows, and the people just look like cardboard cut outs. Then, the audience picks you up and carries you through your performance. I have loved doing shows with my friends.’

He has only been in school sporadically since Year 6 at Haslingden Primary, but has been privately tutored while on the road and has kept up with his high school homework. He and the other youngsters are constantly chaperoned in an environment which means they have an independent streak.

At Rossendale Dance and Drama Centre (RDDC), in Waterfoot, his performance talents have been honed and he will be taking exams in tap, ballet, jazz, drama and Irish. He also hopes to work with Summerseat Players, where his dad is a member.

His parents have seen him on stage at every venue and his mum has been in the audience 54 times. His former primary school headteacher, Glyn Ellis, also went to see him in Edinburgh.

So after 20 months away, has Henry changed? Julie, who now runs the casting agency at RDDC, said: ‘He has become very independent and very confident. When he first went to high school it didn’t faze him at all. If he had things he needed, rather than asking me to sort them, he just got on with it and did it himself.’

And Paul said: ‘When he was going away for the first time he went round to all his teachers and asked them what work he could be getting on with. He was very responsible.’

On his returns home, Henry admitted he liked nothing more than being in his own room, his own bed and having some quiet time.

And once the production is finished he said: ‘I want to be able to ride a bike other than the one I ride across the stage during the performance. But I’ve discovered my bike is no longer big enough for me.’

Of potential future roles, Henry added: ‘I would like to play Luke, one of the characters in the Percy Jackson series of books, but I wouldn’t want to play Billy – you are on the stage almost the whole time of the production. They never stop.’

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