Writer: Lee Hall
Music: Elton John
Director: Stephen Daldry
Reviewer: Emma Boswell
Multi-award winning extravaganza Billy Elliot the Musical comes to Liverpool this month with a two-week run at the Liverpool Empire.
The shows tells the tale of young Billy, who wants to swap his boxing gloves for ballet slippers, against a backdrop of the 1980s miners’ strikes. The show stays true to the storyline of the well-loved film, but enriches it with extra political themes and increased focus on the plight of the miners throughout.
The themes of the show feel very apt in today’s political climate and the audience don’t hold back in showing their views. Effigies to Margaret Thatcher are greeted with a particularly emotive response, with Elton John’s impressive soundtrack complimenting the scenes of comradery on stage; providing many a ‘goosebump’ moment for the audience. A scene combining a ballet class in session and a miner’s strike in action comes to mind out as a stand out scene for achieving this effect.
Billy, played by Liverpool’s own Adam Abbou, is a complete delight to watch. His portrayal of a young man torn between society’s expectations and his own unconventional passions is wonderful; the result is warm, relatable and real. The dancing scenes, masterfully choreographed by Peter Darling are varied, versatile and truly electric; with both Abbou and the rest of the cast leaving the audience increasingly awestruck after each number.
Other particularly notable cast members include Anna-Jane Casey as the matriarchal Mrs. Wilkinson and Bradley Mayfield as the loveable, eccentric young Michael. Abbou, Casey and Mayfield are the key components of some of the show’s most memorable scenes; ranging from a high-energy, cross-dressing performance of the fabulous Expressing Yourself, to a heart-warmingly moving scene in which Billy and Mrs. Wilkinson read a letter from his late mother, to Billy’s explosive audition number.
The way in which the musical combines poignant, tear-jerking scenes with raw northern humour is near-perfect. The sad scenes avoid becoming overly sentimental, keeping the perspective of a ten-year-old boy at the forefront. Following a heart-on-sleeve exchange between Billy and Mrs. Wilkinson about his mother, the kind-hearted teacher comments “She sounds like a very special lady”. Billy’s reply: “No, she was just me ma”, sums up this show – a real, believable tale about an ordinary boy with an extraordinary talent.
The production of the show works well on the whole. The costumes and music are fantastic. The use of shadows during key scenes is clever and multi-faceted within the story. There were times (mainly at the start) when the acoustics in the venue are a little out, making some of the dialogue difficult to hear, but this seems to smooth out fairly quickly. The set-changes are smooth and the scenes seem to slow into one another quite effortlessly.
Billy Elliot will make you laugh and cry. It will make you feel inspired and enraged, happy yet sorrowful. Most of all, it will make you want to learn to dance!
Runs until 20 May 2017 | Image: Alastair Muir