Director: Stephen Daldry
Writer: Lee Hall
Music: Elton John
Reviewer: Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
There are some tales that quickly become a part of the collective cultural consciousness and it’s as though they’ve always been with us. The story of Billy Elliot, the frustrated boy who becomes a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet is one of those. Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film was powerful enough – add some heart-rending songs by Elton John for a transfer to the stage and it becomes so much more.
Billy Elliot the Musical is set against the backdrop of the 1980s miner’s strike and tells the story of young Billy who, despite being forced by his Dad to attend boxing lessons, ends up falling into a ballet class run by Mrs Wilkinson. This is the beginning of a choice that will have a dramatic effect on the rest of his life.
The show is at times painful to watch as it draws upon every conceivable emotion. From the violence and hate generated by the destruction the strikes play on a community, to the heart-warming relationships that shows humanity at its very best – and worst.
There are moments of comedy with a high energy cross-dressing tap dance routine, which receives much laughter and well-deserved applause, and there is sadness when Billy (on this occasion an explosive Emile Gooding) “sees” his dead mother (Nikki Gerrard) while she sings The Letter that she wrote to him before she died. Despite many funny moments coming from Grandma (Andrea Miller), when she sings Grandma’s Song there is a certain poignancy of a life not really lived, which is emphasised by Peter Darling’s threatening choreography. However, it is the moment when the juxtaposition of the young and older Billy (Luke Cinque-White) dancing together that leaves the audience breathless and for this scene alone it is worth the ticket price.
But more than anything this show is one of relationships: Billy and Michael (on this occasion Bradley Mayfield), Billy and Mrs Wilkinson (Annette McLaughlin), Dad (Martin Walsh) and eldest son Tony (Scott Garnham). The latter pair providing a painful moment when they are in dispute over the strike.
Elton John’s musical score is superb and weaves its way nicely through the show. Although the songs may not be as memorable as his other musical pieces, Shine, Solidarity and Born to Boogie are clear favourites with the audience.
Darling’s strong choreography drives the narrative and the routines are stunning in their apparent simplicity. The police versus miners routine reflects the anger the miners had towards the government of the day. At times quite visceral, the contrast between the ballet and the tap routines and the stomping of the boots and banging of truncheons is palpable. Combining this with Rick Fisher’s lighting, which attacks the audience directly, and Ian MacNeil’s set design, which reflects the deprivation and struggle of the community, it is as if all the elements of a good musical have combined without fault.
Billy Elliot the Musical is breathtaking and glorious.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Alastair Muir