Billy Elliot the Musical tells the story of a working-class boy who swaps boxing gloves for ballet shoes. Set in County Durham during the politically stormy UK miners’ strike (1984-5), this is a show that is not only hilarious and heart-warming but one that does not shy away from thought-provoking themes: class warfare, class prejudice and the challenging of gender stereotypes.
The production boasts a strong ensemble from miners to policemen to ballet girls. Annette McLaughlin is superb as Mrs Wilkinson. A triple threat, she mastered both the brassy and tender side of the character and everything in between. Martin Walsh convincingly portrayed the struggle and journey Billy’s dad goes through. Overcoming his prejudice towards his son doing ballet, his decision to place the needs of Billy above the needs of class by becoming a “scab” was one of the most emotional moments of the show.
Scott Garnham gave a stirring performance as Tony, whilst Andrea Miller as Grandma relished her performance of ‘Grandma’s Song’. This number not only provoked much laughter, as Grandma remembered her late husband, but also conveyed a darker side, largely thanks to Peter Darling’s choreography. The presence of Billy’s dead mum (Nikki Gerrard) reduced audience members to tears, with her message in ‘The Letter’ being what enables Billy to carry on dancing.
It was the young actors, however, who were the stars of the show. Elliot Stiff as Billy’s eccentric best friend, Michael, was captivating onstage. The show-stopping number ‘Expressing Yourself’ was a treat to watch, with Michael reminding Billy and the audience that being true to yourself will never go out of style. Lewis Smallman makes an incredibly talented Billy. His acting and singing were both of a high standard but unsurprisingly it was his dancing that stole the show. His performance of ‘Angry Dance’ captured the frustration felt by the young boy as he tapped his way around Ian MacNeil’s rotating staircase. ‘Electricity’, a stirring combination of singing and dancing, was so phenomenal that the applause literally stopped the show.
Other notable moments were ‘Solidarity’, which juxtaposed the fighting miners and policemen with the ensemble of ballet girls, and the beautifully powerful a cappella section of ‘Once We Were Kings’, as the miners descended back into the pits. The Swan Lake duet between Billy and his older self (Luke Cinque-White) was stunning. The visibility of young Billy’s harness did not detract too much from the magic of watching him fly through the air.
Rick Fisher’s lighting design also deserves mentioning. Multiple shadows of actors were often projected onto the back wall. This was used to great effect, especially during ‘Angry Dance’ and ‘He Could Be a Star’.
This fantastic production, under the direction of Stephen Daldry, runs until October 22nd.
Photo credit: DenPImages