Review by David Munro
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Matinees Thursday & Saturday 2.30pm.
Box Office 020 7834 1317