Vivienne Kennedy reviews Billy Elliot the Musical, playing at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 26 November
In 2005, five years after Billy Elliot first hit cinema screens, writer Lee Hall and director Stephen Daldry teamed up once again, this time with Elton John, to create Billy Elliot the Musical, currently playing at Bristol Hippodrome as part of its first UK tour.
The story of a striking coal mining community in the North East, and specifically of a gifted young boy with the potential to escape, has transferred brilliantly to the stage, keeping all its grit and realism while becoming even more political. It’s a show almost guaranteed to make your eyes water, especially if you start thinking about the parallels between the early 1980s and today.
In the title role, young Haydn May, a dancer and gymnast who hails from Bath, absolutely shone on press night (as I’m sure Adam Abbou, Matthew Lyons and Lewis Smallman also will when they take their turns on the Hippodrome stage). I was struck by how difficult it must be for an obviously talented dancer to portray Billy’s first faltering steps as he swaps boxing classes for dance training but he manages that as easily as the complicated, advanced choreography that follows.
Haydn is supported by a fantastic cast of adults and children, including Martin Walsh as Dad, Annette McLaughlin as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, Scott Garnham as brother Tony, and Andrea Miller as Billy’s pasty-obsessed Grandma. I particularly enjoyed watching Henry Farmer as Billy’s cross-dressing friend Michael, who joined Hadyn for a fabulous tap routine for which they were accompanied by giant dancing frocks, and Daniel Page as ballet lesson pianist Mr Braithwaite; the scene in which he dances with Billy and Mrs Wilkinson being one of my favourites.
It’s a show full of memorable moments. One that will have you crying with laughter one moment and properly sobbing the next. The choreography, courtesy of Peter Darling, is exceptional, as is the music, which is performed by a live band led by musical director Patrick Hurley. The story is one of solidarity, community and sacrifice that made me realise just how insulated from harsh reality I was as a teenager growing up in the South West – sure, it took me a few months to find a job when I first left school in 1983 but to grow up in a village or town where most of your family and neighbours were on strike for the best part of a year, where soup kitchens were a necessity…I had no idea, I really didn’t.
I can’t recommend Billy Elliot highly enough. I’ve seen a lot of musicals and it’s one of the very best – informing, educating and above all very entertaining. Go if you can (but maybe don’t take young children, there’s quite a lot of bad language and the official age guidance is 8+).
Billy Elliot the Musical plays at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 26 November 2016. For further information visit www.atgtickets.com
Image: Hadyn May as Billy Elliot, photo by Alastair Muir.