Review: BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, Leicester Curve

The production is a bold departure from the West End show, but succeeds on every level

By: Jul. 21, 2022
Review: BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, Leicester Curve

Review: BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, Leicester Curve Six years after it closed in the West End, the first new staging of Billy Elliot The Musical has opened at the Leicester Curve, made possible by liaison with the original filmmakers. Though it is a bold departure in many ways from the beloved original production, its story endures and continues to resonate strongly with British theatregoers and theatremakers alike.

For performers, it represents the inescapable lure of the stage and though the action is set in Thatcher's Britain, present day audiences can surely connect with the concept of a working class struggling under the thumb of political indifference.

Perhaps the biggest change from Stephen Daldry's original production is the vastly different set. Michael Taylor utilises the full dimensions of the vast stage at the Curve to house a three-story tower, surrounded by scaffolding, chain-link fencing and an army of exposed lighting rigs.

The choreography has also changed; though Peter Darling's original version of Billy's 'Angry Dance' against a wall of riot shields is missed, Lucy Hind's creation is just as visually striking, with Billy trapped in a gulf between the miners and police and subsequently in a cage of their making.

Chiefly among the creative contributions is the exceptional lighting design from Ben Cracknell, one that constantly deploys new tricks from a seemingly endless arsenal. Stirring and thrillingly atmospheric throughout, it is easily one of the most effective uses of lighting I have ever experienced in a theatre. Alongside this, Adam Fisher is credited with a brilliant sound design that ensures the show's most impactful moments land with unparalleled panache.

At this performance, Jaden-Shentall Lee adorned the ballet shoes of Billy Elliot, an exceptional young dancer and singer who, perhaps, impressed the most with his careful and nuanced acting performance. Despite dozens of interpretations in the years since the show first premiered, he delivers Elton John's soaring ballad "Electricity" with such sincerity it is as though you are hearing it for the first time.

His Billy learns to dance under the tutelage of Sally Ann Triplett as a perfect Mrs Wilkinson, just as gritty and pragmatic as the chain-smoking ballet teacher ought to be.

Billy's family is headed by Luke Baker, who makes for an explosive angry-young-man as older brother Tony and Joe Caffrey as their dad, whose powerful portrayal of spousal grief makes act two's "He could be a star" a heart-wrenching highlight.

Director Nikolai Foster mines to the heart of the show's winning material, unearthing its central theme of community, and exposing it in a visceral and visually starker staging. Though some moments feel lost on the immense stage, songs such as "Solidarity" achieve tremendous success with a direction that echoes the writing's brilliant juxtaposition of Billy's own journey, with the miners' strike that is unfolding around him.

Fans of the show may lament the changes to the staging of "Expressing Yourself" but can look forward to the hugely impactful return to the mines at the show's conclusion, which has been smartly maintained.

What any revival offers a musical is the opportunity to glimpse it from a new perspective. Though its appearance may change, the story, songs and script of Billy Elliot The Musical are proven powerful enough to excel under any guise. Its protagonist may be quick to reject boxing, but this emotionally intense and technically impressive production still packs a lasting punch.

Billy Elliot The Musical runs at the Leicster Curve until 20 August

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner


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