Billy Elliot The Musical
- Thom Dibdin
- 26 September 2016
Musical version of Lee Hall's dance protégé movie finds new depths and a political edge
This touring production of Billy Elliot The Musical proves that a great movie can be bettered by putting it on the stage. With Elton John providing the music, original writer Lee Hall has brought a new edge to the show and a strong sense of storytelling through its big production numbers.
Billy's story is just the peg on which to hang a complex and fascinating account of a Northern English mining community in 1984. The young adolescent discovers that his natural talents are better diverted towards the ballet class, held just after the boxing class he is supposed to attend every Saturday morning.
With Billy's mum dead, his dad is just about holding the family together, but Billy goes on to defy his father and big brother by keeping on with the dancing while they are embroiled with the miners' strike of 1984/85. And, despite the resulting grinding poverty, finds the financial resources to audition for the Royal Ballet School.
Lewis Smallman (one of four lads playing Billy) is superb in the role. His antipathy to the boxing carries through to the decidedly awkward early scenes in the ballet class with Annette McLaughlin in suitably stony form as the chain-smoking teacher, Mrs Wilkinson.
You never disbelieve the growth in his ability. Right up to the big centre-piece Angry Dance, when his bedroom - already high up on Ian MacNeil's set - bursts open and becomes a central podium and Smallman all but bursts with a bravura show of tap and rage.
It's not Mark Thomas for sure - and the anti-Thatcher sentiments were shouted louder in the Billy Youth Theatre shows of a few years back - but the nuances of personal politics in working and middle class lives during the strike are vividly recalled in a production which is all show. Electric.
Edinburgh Playhouse, until Sat 22 Oct.