Actors gave electrifying performances
Billy Elliot: The Musical
Review at Manchester Palace Theatre ahead of the show coming to the Liverpool Empire (May 9-27)
As someone who has never seen Billy Elliot on stage, my expectations were based on how the show would differ from the ground-breaking 2000 film about the working-class Billy, 11, who dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer against his family’s wishes during the 1984–85 coal miners’ strike.
Haydn May, who took on the central role, shined in the lead position, with a flawless performance that demonstrated not only talent for a range of dancing styles but also naturally-delivered lines. There was an electric scene during Billy’s ‘outburst’ when he was told by his father that he can't go to his first audition for the Royal Ballet.
His relationship with Mrs Wilkinson (Annette McLaughlin) provided a mix of witty, and touching interactions.
The scene with Billy’s Grandma (Andrea Miller), where she shared her memories of his Grandpa through a shared dance/song number with a group of backing dancers was downright hilarious.
There were some clever techniques at play to merge the hard-hitting themes explored.
The presence of the miners’ strike was everywhere, and there were scenes that saw Billy dancing off the clear plastic shields of police officers to him being encased by his brother in a wooden boards defence – while still dancing - as the clash between the protesters and the police goes on around them.
The show doesn’t hide away from the grittiness of the film’s original themes either – the dingy, sparse sets really displayed the poverty of the village during the miners’ strike and the cast – even the youngsters – used language that would make your father blush.
The tension between Billy’s dad and brother came to a head when his Dad knocked Tony violently to the floor. Tony also returned from a clash with bloody facial wounds and many of the scenes hold the brooding threat of violence from police batons and protective gear to protesters’ clubs and several times it spilled over into fights.
Billy’s individual dancing was incredible and he teamed up with his ‘adult self’ (Luke Cinque-White) to create a synchronised/joint routine, which also featured a ‘surprise’ (I won't ruin it for you) – which was actually spellbinding.
Many members of the cast deserved an individual mention but for me, Haydn May, Annette McLaughlin and Billy’s witty, boundary-crossing childhood friend Michael really stole the limelight with performances that were all heartfelt, hilarious, deadpan and touching all at once.