Director: Stephen Daldry
Music: Elton John
Book and Lyrics: Lee Hall
Reviewer: Joseph Leigh
The audience’s expectations as they enter the Theatre Royal Plymouth to see Billy Elliot The Musical could not be higher. Based on the multi-award winning film Billy Elliot and arriving with its own host of international accolades, this production’s billing talks a talk that sets the bar high. With a large cast of child performers and the added complexities of being a touring production this is no small task;however, Billy Elliot The Musical does not disappoint.
From the inspiring and powerful opening number through to the production’s climactic dénouement, Billy Elliot The Musical maintains an electric energy that has the audience on the edge of their seats and singing away in the interval. Each and every musical number is superbly balanced to reflect the relevant plot point or theme – no small task when you consider that the source is one of the best known and most loved films of the last 20 years, not to mention the seismic importance of the social and political events that unfold alongside Billy’s own story.
Perhaps the production’s success should be taken as a given: Director Stephen Daldry directed the film itself, taking home the Academy Award for Best Director in 2000 as well as a number of other awards and nominations. The music is provided by Elton John, a singer and songwriter so prolific and successful that it is almost disrespectful to explain who he is. Billy Elliot The Musical is also the product of some of the largest corporate names in the performing world, including Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films, and Old Vic Productions.
However, to assume that Billy Elliot The Musical’s success is simply down to the pedigree of its creative team is to do a disservice to all involved in the production. The challenge of taking a successful film and translating it to the stage is significant and doing so in the context of a musical even greater, however through Daldry’s direction, John’s music, and Lee Hall’s book and lyrics this has been effortlessly achieved. Billy Elliot The Musical captures the themes and emotional power of the film while adding its own unique energy and perspective. The music picks out the comedic elements of the story as well as the serious, creating the high energy and dynamic storyline that a successful musical requires.
The cast themselves are superb. Particular mention must go to the younger members of the cast, whose performances are uniformly delivered with impressive skill and a level of discipline and awareness that is often lacking in adult professionals. Adam Abbou’s portrayal of Billy is exceptional, with a proficiency in dance that is only matched by his ability to act and sing. Elliot Stiff’s Michael and Evie Martin’s Debbie were equally strong, providing Abbou with the support of believable and likeable characters who successfully follow their own narrative arc.
The adult performances are no less impressive and take on the intertwining narrative of the miner’s strike with an emotional power that is impossible to ignore. Martin Walsh’s performance as Billy’s Dad is exceptional, capturing the genuine humanity of the character and bringing the audience along on his very personal road from striking miner to supportive father. Annette McLaughlin’s performance as Mrs Wlkinson also brings a key dynamic to the production, providing the enabling of both Billy’s talent and his Dad’s revelation.
Technically the production is sublime, with a set and lighting set up that are both dynamic and immersive. There is only the occasional minor moment that does not quite sit – the odd slipping accent or slight delay just taking the edge off the otherwise impeccable shine of this production. That is not to say that this is not an excellent performance, however, Billy Elliot The Musical has the potential to easily take the tiny step up to perfection.
Billy Elliot The Musical is an excellent production that is enjoyable for fans of the film and of musical theatre alike. With some strong language, it may not be for young families; however, for those who are not offended by the use of profanity, this will be a sure-fire hit.
Runs until 2 April 2016 then on tour | Image:Alastair Muir