BWW Review: BILLY ELLIOT at ASB Waterfront Theatre
Billy Elliot is the first production in the new ASB Waterfront theatre. Auckland Theatre Company's new home is a stunning venue with acoustics second to none.The show is set in a northern mining town against the background of the 1984 miners' strike where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pulled on her boxing gloves to take on the miners in a marathon fight which lasted more than a year and cost many families their livelihood and their pride. It is the inspirational story of a boy's struggle against the odds to make his dream come true.Billy Elliot is raw, gritty, poignant in parts and very 'northern England'. It is brilliantly cast with the children stepping into their roles admirably, well and truly meeting the benchmark set by the outstanding performances of the adult cast members. Alongside the six boys playing Billy and Michael, the spectacular adult cast is lead by Stephen Lovatt (Once on Chunuk Bair, Rupert, Fallen Angels) who is playing Billy's father Jackie, Rima Te Wiata (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Book of Everything) who is outstanding as Billy's Grandma, and Jodie Dorday (Burying Brian, Blue Heelers, Take a Chance on Me) who came home to play Billy's beloved dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson. She is absolutely stunning in the role. Other cast members include recent Toi Whakaari graduate Jack Barry (Making Of The Mob: Chicago, Pike River: The Long Wait, Balls) who is playing Billy's brother Tony and Black Grace dancer Daniel Cooper is playing the older Billy Elliot. The ensemble of miners and policemen includes Andy Grainger (Lysistrata, Chicago, Once on Chunuk Bair) who lived up to his reputation as a personal favourite. While there was an Eltonesque flavour to the music, it is bigger and more dramatic than any music I have heard from the well-known artist. More along the lines of Les Miserable' than Crocodile Rock although this would have fit the period of the show. The story line follows the destitute Elliot family where manly pursuits such as boxing were worth the sacrifice of the 50p fee. When they discovered their lad was giving his 50p to the local dance teacher for ballet lessons with a gaggle of girls instead, it was almost too much for them to bear.
The dancing girls were exciting to watch and a welcome colourful relief to the harsh reality of shows themes, although the high pitched squeals were sometimes fingernails on chalk board territory. The role of Billy is so demanding it will be played by three boys, Ben Sheif, Harry Sills and Jaxon Cook, throughout the season and although I am sure all three of them will be amazing I can only rave over the performance of 'my' Billy - Jaxson Cook. He looked like such a young boy, but when he opened his mouth his singing belied his years and of course his dancing style was a joy to behold. The scenes involving the mash up of the police, miners and dancing girls were refreshingly original, spirited and some of my favourites.
Much of the dialogue is 'blue' with expletives that support the authentic costuming and set. The staging was simple, effective and seamless in scene changes even on opening night. A special mention must go to the lighting designer Matt Marshall as the lighting effects were notably stunning.The season runs until 27th November and tickets are selling fast.