An enjoyable show with marvelous choreography which is only weakened by comparison to its source material.
In recent years, Mayflower Theatre has seen some of London’s most acclaimed musicals hit its stage. The latest in this seemingly long line of shows is Billy Elliot, whose run at the Victoria Palace Theatre concluded last year. Having waited to see the show for a long time, I had high expectations. Although not all of them were met, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable show, which displayed some incredible talent.
The story opens on the eve of the Miners’ Strike in 1984, opening with the poignant number ‘The Stars Look Down’ as the Miners all stand together and sing as they prepare to march. Although the scene was one that does not show current events, it felt alarmingly relevant; all these people from working class backgrounds standing together in solidarity and holding signs as they protest injustice… Yeah, it immediately felt as if this show had some political weight behind it.
It is not straight away that we meet Billy (played by four alternate actors, with Emile Gooding in role at the performance I saw), but as soon as we do, he is utterly charming. Maybe it’s just the whole idea of this tiny child with a Geordie accent and lots of cussing that makes us smile, but Gooding was lovable from the offset. Introduced properly in a scene with his family in their home over breakfast, he stands out as being a fresh talent. Side note: the use of set, especially with the Elliot’s house was beautifully done throughout.
Although the pacing of the story seems a bit slow, and it it takes a while to warm up, as soon as we are given the ballet sequences, the show gets exciting. The choreography is the heart of the show, no doubt about it. Expertly woven in to highlight the contrast between the agility and grace of ballet, and the brutal aggression of the Miners’ Strike. This is shown explicitly in the number ‘Solidarity’ in which the scene constantly cuts between the children’s ballet class and the protests at the Mines. This is explored later again in ‘Angry Dance’ in which Billy actually dances against and on the policemen’s shields. This contrast and combination is definitely one of the highlights of the entire production and reminds the audience of why the original film on which the play is based was so prolific.
The other thing that makes the show utterly wonderful is the comic element. Throughout the entire show there were many moments, scenes and songs that had the entire audience bursting with laughter. Although I’m never a fan of characters being reduced to purely being the comic relief, the young actors who played Michael (Samuel Torpey) and Debbie (Italia Ross), both used it to their advantage and owned it completely.
In fact, the entire supporting cast shone. Martin Walsh, Scott Garnham and Andrea Miller were all completely believable as Billy’s family, and were wonderful at displaying both aprehension and excitement at the prospect of Billy going to ballet school. Annette Mclaughlin, though no Julie Walters, was a brilliant Mrs Wilkinson- she demonstrated the tiredness and frustration of her years at not achieving her own dreams, whilst her dynamic with Billy is sweet and has the audience getting pretty emotional at points. The real star though was young Billy, and I do think that his age just emphasised his talent even more. He never missed a beat, he was graceful, charming, and damn could the boy dance! In fact, even in the dream sequence in which Billy dances with an older version of himself, Gooding’s talent matched that of the man a decade his senior in age and experience.
The show, at its heart, captures the themes and fun that made Stephen Daldry’s film so great. Elton John’s score is an absolute delight, made better by Peter Darling’s expert choreography. The production does have its flaws, such as its needlessly large ensemble who at points seem a bit at a loss as of what to do, and the jumpy narrative that doesn’t flow as seamlessly as it could. However, these flaws are not fatal, and the show is certainly a great night out and an enjoyable watch for musical lovers, and perhaps even those who don’t usually like the genre.
Billy Elliot is an absolute delight, and if you get the chance, this current UK tour is definitely worth seeing.
Billy Elliot is currently running at the Mayflower Theatre until the 4th March 2017.