A well-loved musical is back in the UK in a brand new production as Billy Elliot takes the stage at the beautiful Curve Leicester for a limited summer run. A fixture in the West End where it played at the Victoria Palace from 2005 for 11 years, it has since been seen in the UK on a tour but this Made at Curve production marks the first time the original staging has been revised. But would this be able to replicate the success of the much loved original?
Based on the film from 2000, Billy Elliot tells the story of a young boy who discovers a love and talent for ballet against the wishes of his family, who would much prefer him to take up boxing. Exploring the themes of masculinity, this is all played out against the backdrop of the UK miners strike from 1984-85.
Homemade shows at Curve are known for their high production values and Billy Elliot is no exception. The vast space of the stage is used to fantastic effect thanks to the inspired set design by Michael Taylor. Fences dotted around the stage move around to create some brilliant and innovative sequences while a three-storey building representing Billys house and other settings moves gloriously around the stage. With expert direction by Nikolai Foster, the action bursts through every inch of the space and into the audience as well, often to rousing effect.
One of the most impressive aspects of this production is the phenomenal lighting design from Ben Cracknell. Reminiscent of the equally impressive lighting seen at Curve’s production of A Chorus Line last year, a huge lighting rig looms over the stage, lowering and revealing clever twists to create some of the most beautiful lighting I have ever seen in the theatre.
The original choreography from Peter Darling has been completely revised with new choreography from Lucy Hind. While some of the original sequences were iconic in their own right, to rip them up and start again is a bold and daring move that ultimately pays off. The classic elements of the show are all there, but this new movement makes Billy Elliot feel fresh and exciting, like this is the first time the show has ever been seen on stage. This is seen through the precision in the impressive group numbers while Billys solo dances are equally thrilling to watch.
Four young boys share the title role of Billy. At the performance I saw, the role was played by Jaden Shentall-Lee (the son of Lisa Scott-Lee though sadly her solo hit ‘Electric’ was not incorporated into ‘Electricity’) – a formidable force who showcased an emotional depth and acting talent beyond his age, not to mention incredible dancing skills. He really is following in his mothers Steps, proving the talent in his family extends through the generations.
The wonderful Sally-Ann Triplett is flawless in her turn at Mrs. Wilkinson. Perfectly commanding the balance between withdrawn and defeated to the optimism she finds as she sees and nurtures Billys talents, she proves once again why she is one of the greatest performers the UK has at the moment. Jessica Daley is a standout in a small but highly emotional role as Billys mum, providing one of the most emotional moments you will see on stage in the heart-breaking ‘The Letter’.
Joe Caffrey reprises his role from the West End production as Billy’s dad Jackie Elliot, giving a truly varied performance as the initially resistant father who later comes to champion his talented son, with a particularly sensitive portrayal in the second act providing a standout moment in the show. The talented Elliot family is completed by another performer at the top of his game as Luke Baker thrills as brother Tony, while Rachel Izen gives a comic masterclass as Grandma though revealing a sentimental side in the beautiful ‘Grandma’s Song’.
The cast are completed by a company of incredible young performers with Pearl Ball and Prem Masani as Debbie and Michael stealing scenes with their comic and beautiful performances. The West End run of Billy Elliot produced stars such as Tom Holland and Layton Williams. It is reasonable to expect future stars to come out of this production too.
The music by Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall still remain as fabulous as when they were first heard, with the big number ‘Electricity’ remaining one of the greatest songs in musical theatre – now with added sparks at its climax. This is by no means a one song show though with numbers such as ‘We Were Born To Boogie’ and the still hilarious ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher’ remaining as joyous as ever.
It is always hard to take such a well loved show like Billy Elliot and live up to its already impressive legacy. However, what Curve have achieved with this production is nothing short of spectacular. At the very least, it is every bit as incredible as the original version, though dare I say some parts may be even better? With a fantastically talented cast and incredible production value, Billy Elliot could go down as the best show Curve have ever produced and is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows of the year. An absolute must-see, let’s hope there is more life to this fantastic production after its initial run concludes.
Billy Elliot plays at Curve Leicester until August 20th. Tickets available from curveonline.co.uk
Photos by Marc Brenner