Writer and Lyricist: Lee Hall
Composer: Elton John
Director: Stephen Daldry
Choreographer: Peter Darling
There are four young actors who work in rotation to play the eponymous Billy Elliot in the current tour and there’s little wonder – the character is rarely off the stage and, on this particular night, 12-year-old Lewis Smallmangives every scene an extraordinary amount of energy.
Set during the 1984 – 85 miners’ strike – this is the story of Billy, a son of a miner who finds himself with a raw talent for an activity not conducive to his station in life, that of ballet dancing. The musical has become a phenomenon since its premiere at London’s Victoria Palace theatre in March 2005 and followed on from Lee Hall’s non-musical screenplay in 2000, which brought a young Jamie Bell to the public attention. To date it has picked up10Tonys and five Olivier Awards.
From his beginnings in boxing classes at the local social club hall to a star of the Royal Ballet, we’re taken on a high-quality roller-coaster ride as Billy battles with class prejudice amid the rising tensions of industrial action in the north east of England.
By the end of the first act, choreographer Peter Darling has transformed Billy’s clumsy and reluctant plodding into a confident, innatedance skill. Smallman, in particular,is imbued with enviable gymnastic abilities that are thoroughly exploited throughout.
Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes are superb,especially those of DebbieWilkinson, the dance teacher – played by Annette McLaughlin – and Billy’s friend, Michael(Elliot Stiff). These characters have alicense to be far more flamboyant than the others; Michael and Billy enjoya fantastically surreal cross-dressed song and dance sequence together, while a chorus ofgiant frocksstorms the stage and tap dances around them.
Musically, Billy Elliot is a triumph, as one might expect from Elton John (The Lion King) and Lee Hall (War Horse). Filled with memorable tunes; for example, the cheeky Expressing Yourself, anthemic Once We Were Kings, and Dear Billy (Mum’s Letter), anabsolutely heart-wrenching duet between dance teacher Debbie (Evie Martin) and Billy’s late mother.
Martin Walsh as Dad, Scott Garnham as brother Tony, and Andrea Miller as Gran make up Billy’s family. Their loving yet funny dynamic is played out beautifully. The relationship between Billy and his family is frequently tense – and the language is uncompromising – but the actors let the tender moment linger beautifully.
The touring production is extremely difficult to find fault with. A must see.
Runs until 16 July 2016 | Image:Alastair Muir