Billy Elliot Review 2015

  • Our critic's rating:
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    **For the original reviews from May 2005 click Here

    Less than a week after Britain elected a majority Conservative government, Billy Elliot celebrated its 10th West End anniversary to provide a cautionary reminder of the painful legacy of a struggle under their watch 30 years ago that decimated a community, namely the 1984 Miners' Strike that was brutally crushed.

    But the joy of Billy Elliot is that, although grounded in a vivid and vicious political reality (that contains a blissfully comic number in which the striking miners put on a community cabaret that looks forward to the death of Margaret Thatcher: 'Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher/ We'll all celebrate today/ 'cause it's one day closer to your death'), it is also about more universal themes — namely the powerful redemption and liberating freedoms that can be found in artistic expression, whatever your background.

    In this case, it is the story of a striking miner's twelve-year old son who discovers the joys of dance — and wins a place to study at the Royal Ballet School in London. It's thrilling stuff, and Lee Hall - adapting his own screenplay to the film made in 2000 - has made a genuine work of art out of this portrait of finding yourself through art. And the show provides its own utterly magnificent and heartwarming demonstration of it in action, as an amazing group of youngsters prove it though dance themselves.

    At the 10th anniversary performance on May 12, the title role was shared, in tag team style, by the four young actors — aged 10 to 13 — who currently alternate in the role, plus two more who have recently departed the show. It was as close to theatrical heaven as you're ever likely to get.

    But even on nights when that doesn't happen, you are assured a brilliant Billy. Some 40 boys have now played the role in the course of the last ten years, and some of them have grown up now to become professional performers themselves. (One of the original New York 'Billy's', for example, is now in On the Town on Broadway, after completing military training).

    Billy Elliot is in the gritty but heartwarming territory of British musicals previously occupied by the even more long-running Blood Brothers that are set amongst working class lives in local communities. While other British megamusicals from Phantom and Les Mis (both set in France) to Mamma Mia! (Greece) have a generic flavour that has enabled them to thrive all over the world, Billy Elliot alone feels authentically English. That's one reason to applaud and celebrate it, but it is also an incredible demonstration of theatrical craft and know-how, with Stephen Daldry and Peter Darling — also both reprising directorial and choreographic duties from the film — driving the story forward with seamless and exhilarating skill.

    It's a simply gorgeous show, now seen by 5 million people in the West End alone. Make that five million and one tonight.


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