What started as a musical adaptation of a much-loved film, Billy Elliot is now celebrating its tenth year at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre. Seen by over 10 million people world-wide, the inspirational story of a young boy from Durham who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, is still captivating audiences of all ages, and it’s not hard to see why. His journey is brought to life through the wonderful score by Elton John, outstanding choreography by Peter Darling, and sharp direction by Stephen Daldry.
The story takes place during the Northern coal miners’ strike in 1984/5 as a small town feels the full force of Thatcher’s reign. Billy’s mining father (Deka Walmsley) is trying to hold his family together after his wife passed away, providing as best he can for his boys and the elderly Grandma. After taking boxing classes, 11 year-old Billy (Ollie Jochim) unwillingly finds himself in Mrs Wilkinson’s (Wendy Somerville) ballet class and amongst the gaggle of young girls, Billy begins to shine. His bigoted father isn’t too happy and with a town in crisis, can he really support a son who wants to lead a life in ballet school?
It’s hard not to make comparisons to the Academy Award nominated film, but Daldry has creatively adapted Lee Hall’s vision and, unlike the film, the dancing very much takes centre stage and forms the production as means to portray the emotion and atmosphere. Billy dances out his frustration against a fierce score, that has him screaming out, and you can’t help but feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The tension is equally felt amongst an impassioned community and the clashes between police and strikers are intensified by dramatic musical direction that feels raw and gritty.
However, against the turmoil of this community there’s humour, wonderfully brought to the stage by Billy’s cross-dressing mate Michael (Todd Bell). There is also a fabulous sequence where police and strikers clash whilst Mrs Wilkinson is conducting a dance class, and I felt there was something quite lovely seeing rugged, hard-hat wearing men lifting little girls in pretty tutus.
This is a feel-good tale of dreams overcoming obstacles, full of electricity and spirit. You are simply wow-ed by such a young performer who is supported by an exceptional cast and creative team.
10 years on and not remotely tired (maybe apart from the set mechanics which failed at times), Billy Elliot is a sure example of the power of musical theatre, it’s a cliché but you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll leave with an uplifting feeling of camaraderie.
Reviewed by Becky Usher