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Billy Elliot – The Musical review at Victoria Palace Theatre London

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The principal creative team behind the hit film Billy Elliot, including the director, writer and choreographer, have reunited just five years later to bring it triumphantly to the musical stage. Joined by Elton John, who provides an alternately pounding and tender score that is rooted in a contemporary pop rock idiom and is easily his best theatrical work to date, they have not only deepened the material (and somewhat lengthened it, too) but have also made it far more emotionally penetrating and resonant.

With a seemingly perpetual flurry of superbly syncopated movement threaded through the evening in Peter Darling’s exhilarating choreography, the joy of dance that the story epitomises also becomes one of the key narrative devices of its telling.

Lee Hall’s script charts the dance aspirations of an 11-year-old Durham miner’s son, played out against the background of the 1984 miners’ strike. The amazing emotional power of this particular rites-of-passage story is exhilaratingly underlined in the dazzling efforts of the young actor called to play him, who is rarely offstage in nearly three hours.

Much has been made of the search for the Billys. Not since David O Selznick’s fabled search for the girl to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind can there have been quite so demanding a task. Even more so, in fact, for there is a finite window of opportunity in finding and training a child actor – not only do they quickly grow up, but the number of performances they can give once found is also limited. A special mention should be made of children’s casting agent Jessica Ronane, whose huge job this is.

Inevitably, this is therefore only a partial review of the show – of the three original Billys who currently share the role, I have only seen the press night’s 12-year-old Liam Mower, who, like Billy aspires to be in the show, is a student at the Royal Ballet School. And he is simply thrilling, acting with tender vulnerability, singing with sweet earnestness and dancing with utterly disciplined delight and abandon.

But though Stephen Daldry’s magical staging revolves around Billy and the kids – and particularly his poignant friendship with his cross-dressing best friend Michael (a delightful Ryan Longbottom on press night) – the adults, too, are richly realised in Haydn Gwynn’s brassy dance teacher, Tim Healy’s moving portrait of Billy’s father and Ann Emery’s comically touching performance as Billy’s grandmother.

Production Information

Victoria Palace Theatre, London, From May 11

Author
Book and lyrics by Lee Hall
Composer
Elton John
Director
Stephen Daldry
Choreography
Peter Darling
Producer
Working Title and Old Vic Productions in association with Tiger Aspect
Cast includes
Haydn Gwynne, Tim Healy, Ann Emery, Joe Caffrey, James Lomas
Running time
2hrs 50mins

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