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Billy Elliot: The Musical

Billy Elliot poster

Review by David Monro

LEE Hall has adapted his carefree film script of Billy Elliot into a dark, somewhat didactic musical.

The result, to quote Stephen Sondheim, is ‘something appealing, something appalling’.

Appealing in the slaphappy, almost slapstick scenes between Billy, his friends and teacher, contrasted with the appallingly sombre Brechtian treatment of his family and the other miners caught up in the no-win situation of the1984 Miners’ Strike. Old Mother Riley meets Mother Courage as you might say.

And yet this dichotomy works to produce a really worthwhile couple or so hours in the theatre.

Stephen Daldrey and his designer, Ian MacNeil, have produced a series of stage vignettes which, while memorable in themselves, produce a coherent and cohesive whole.

Billy at his dancing class, the miners’ meetings, the Elliott family at home with their matriarchal grandmother – all fairly commonplace but yet in the hands of Daldry and his cast not a stereotype.

I did not find out the name of the boys who played Billy and his best friend; if they were displayed in the theatre, it was not conspicuous.

I therefore cannot allot the praise to any particular performer but must content myself with saying that whoever Billy was played by when I saw it was superb, as singer, actor and, most especially, as a dancer.

Billy is obviously the pivotal part and though he is well supported by the rest of the cast, the success or otherwise of the performance rests on his thin little shoulders.

The boy I saw was assured, unprecocious and utterly professional and blazed his way through his scenes in a manner which would have done credit to a star twice his age.

His best friend, Michael, was also very funny in his transvestite scene but again I cannot say who it was playing the part.

The plot is well known to anyone who has seen the film and probably to those who haven’t.

Billy, the son of a miner, is destined to become a boxer; by chance he happens on a ballet class which changes his life and the rest of the plot revolves around the efforts of a sympathetic ballet mistress to help him achieve a scholarship to the Royal Ballet and how the opposition of Billy’s family is gradually eroded.

All this against the background of the miners’ strike and the poverty and hardship it causes.

The musical stops before the transition of the boy into a ballet star and ends on his receiving the news he has been accepted into the Royal Ballet school.

There is, however, a wonderful sequence when Billy dances with his older self (Isaac James) which is sheer magic.

A brilliant inspiration by Peter Darling whose choreography in this and in the rest of the show is of an exceptionally high standard.

Tim Healy makes an endearing character of Billy’s father – coarse, vulgar yet finally understanding.

The sympathetic Ballet Mistress who relives her ambitions through Billy was played by Haydn Gwynne, a compelling performance of strictness, sympathy and humour.

The rest of Billy’s family, his absent minded Grandmother (Ann Emery) and bully of a brother (Joe Caffery), whilst not appealing characters, provide a good background for Billy and his ambitions.

The rest of the large cast have effective moments and provide a good backdrop for Billy’s skills and Lee Hall’s proselytising.

The score, by Elton John to Lee Hall’s lyrics, was tuneful and fitted the situations admirably. On first hearing, it seemed unobtrusive yet effective, whether or not it is a great score only time and a few more hearings can tell.

I never thought Billy Elliot had the makings of a musical. How wrong I was; film or no film, this production stands firmly on its own feet and, as such, should be seen and applauded by everyone who appreciates style, taste and superb production values in their theatregoing.

Billy Elliot book and lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John.
Directed by Stephen Daldry.
Set Designer – Ian MacNeil.
Costume Designer – Nicky Gillibrand.
Choreographer – Peter Darling.
Lighting – Rick Fisher.
Sound – Paul Arditti.
Musical Director – Philip Bateman.
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn, Sally Greene.

CAST: Haydn Gwynne; Tim Healy; Ann Emery; Joe Caffrey; James Lomas; George Maguire; Liam Mower; Brooke Havanna Bailey; Daniel Coll; Erica Ann Deakin; Alex Delamere; Damien Delaney; Steve Elias; Susan Fay; Alan Forrester; Tevor Fox; Chris Hornby; Emma Hudson; Isaac James; Brad Kavanagh; Gillian Kirkpatrick; Chris Lennon; Ashley Lloyd; Ryan Longbottom; David Massey; Michelle McAvoy; Karl Morgan; Daniel Page; Steve Paget; Lee Proud; Stephanie Putson; Mike Scott; Phil Snowden; Lucy Stephenson; Tessa Worsley.

Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria Street, SW1E 5EA
Evenings 7.30pm
Matinees Thursday & Saturday 2.30pm.
Box Office 020 7834 1317