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Review: BILLY ELLIOT - Victoria Palace Theatre, London

Billy Elliot the Musical
Victoria Palace Theatre

Billy Elliot is a musical based on the well-known Universal Pictures/Studio Canal Film production of the same title. Set in the tumultuous years of 1984/1985 it tells the story of a young gifted working-class boy who discovers his love for ballet. The clever storyline brings together not only Billy’s fight to convince his family of his talent but also the clashes of the 1984 Miners’ Strike and political unrest during Margret Thatcher’s Britain.

While as with any adaption from film to stage there will be some sacrifices made in terms of plot, Billy Elliot the Musical remains true to the original story. With an original score provided by Elton John, it has been running since 2005 and has been nominated 9 times at the Laurence Olivier Awards.

Visually, it’s a stunning piece of theatre. It certainly shows impressive stage direction – beautifully choreographed routines, a haunting solo piece where Billy is lit with the backdrop of a huge shadow showing his flawless technique, and a moment of comic genius when the young ballet dancers mix with the Miners’ Strike. The set itself is breathtaking, with characters seemingly oozing out of the scenery and rooms appearing from all corners of the stage as they pop-up or pull-out of the walls and floor.

The singing and acting are of the highest quality. Kaine Ward shone as the young Billy – it was hard to believe that at only 12 years old he was already able to convincingly lead an entire theatre troupe as their headline male. Special mention must also go to Reece Barrett, who played the difficult role of ‘Michael’ – Billy’s cross-dressing friend. It is a daunting role for any young actor and yet the 13 year old captured both the depth and vulnerability that such a character demands. Such acting quality is often hard to come by, particularly when casting children, yet this show proves that young talent is out there and can successfully hold together an entire show.

The music, although poignant and well sung is not particularly catchy. With Elton John’s success with The Lion King musical I was slightly disappointed not to come away with the themes ringing in my head. However, they provided an adequate background for the movement on stage. There was also an excessive amount of swearing from both the adults and children alike! Word of warning for parents thinking of taking their little ones for a fun night out – this is probably not suitable for young children. The swearing, while I accept is an attempt to capture the lifestyles and times of the 1980s mining community did feel slightly excessive and at times put in for the shock value rather than story development.

The only part that didn’t sit right with me was the ending. The film ends on a positive, vibe as Billy (now an adult man) performs for the first time in front of his family. The theatre ending is poignant, but it is not exactly a happy ending and left me feeling somewhat empty.

A fantastic show that is not to be missed! A stunning piece of theatre and a refreshing young cast of impeccable talent!

Billy Elliot the Musical plays at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Tickets £19.50-£65 from www.victoriapalacetheatre.co.uk

Review by Melissa Phillips

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