A Fun-filled Four Star Show * * * *
It’s hard to believe that nine years have passed since Billy Elliot The Musical first graced the stage of London’s Victoria Palace Theatre. Following the enormous success of the film version in 2000, director Stephen Daldry and a cast of all ages have successfully adapted the magic of Billy’s story for a live theatre audience.
Billy (Mitchell Tobin) is a twelve year old boy, living in 1980s County Durham. Billy’s working class father Jackie (David Bardsley) and older brother Tony (Chris Grahamson) are struggling through the miners strike and tensions run high at home. Billy and Jackie’s relationship is further tested when Billy unwittingly becomes a student of ballet teacher Mrs.Wilkinson (Ruthie Henshall) and discovers his passion for dance.
Naturally, the question on audiences’ lips is: ‘how does this story translate into musical theatre?’. The answer comes in the form of spectacular choreography from Peter Darling, combined with a musical score from Elton John. The result is a lively, versatile array of musical numbers, performed with infectious energy by a hugely talented cast. The standard of performance is equally high from both the adult and younger cast members and the ensemble work together beautifully to deliver each song with emotion and impact.
Tobin is absolutely stunning in the role of Billy. A combination of careful direction and skilled acting reveals his dance abilities gradually, over the course of Billy’s journey. I had expected the narrative transition from ‘beginner’ to accomplished dancer to be significant but was unprepared for just how talented this young actor is. Act one impressed me. During act two, my jaw literally dropped. The nice thing about all the children in this cast, is their ability to deliver such remarkable dancing, whilst retaining a natural childishness. Even when performing complex, synchronised choreography, they remain one hundred percent in character.
Another surprising element of this production, was the versatility of its script. Tackling substantial themes such as self expression, identity, hope and class struggle requires a moving, poignant dialogue and this was certainly delivered. Bardsley, Grahamson and Henshall are captivating in the principle adult roles and some of their scenes carry huge emotional weight with very little speech. What I didn’t expect, was the humour. Subtle one-liners and full-on visual gags are executed with perfect comic timing from the cast and I found myself laughing out loud at several points throughout the show.
The production’s visual design is an interesting blend of realism and the abstract. Scenes in the dance hall for example, take place within a realistic full-scale set, whilst more expressive sequences use smoke and lighting effects to convey characters’ emotions or fantasies. The set pieces themselves are creatively utilised to represent different locations and the stage direction is slick and on-cue, ensuring the audience remains fully immersed in the world of the play.
For me, the illusion was only broken once, during Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher, the opening number of act two. Whilst the visuals of this scene are entertaining and certainly memorable, I felt that the abstract quality was perhaps one step too far, for that particular moment. Scenes with just one or two characters carry the more conceptual design well however it seemed a little out of place, when used in an ensemble sequence such as this.
Overall, Billy Elliot The Musical is a heartwarming, inspiring tale, performed by a highly talented group of performers. The music and dance numbers are buzzing with energy and will keep audiences of all ages transfixed from beginning to end. This is a feel-good must-see for the whole family.
Book & Lyrics: Lee Hall
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn & Sally Greene
Director: Stephen Daldry
Music: Elton John
Choreographer: Peter Darling
Box Office: 0844 248 5000