Review: Billy Elliot

Haydn May as Billy Elliot Pic: Contributed
Haydn May as Billy Elliot Pic: Contributed
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BRUTALLY poignant, powerful and moving, Billy Elliot danced its way onto the stage of the Playhouse last night for a triumphant Scottish premiere.

The Playhouse

* * * * * * *

A musical as joyous as it is thought-provoking, the story of the working-class lad who swapped his boxing gloves for ballet pumps unfolds against the backdrop of the 1984/5 miners’ strike.

In the Easington Lodge of the Durham Miners Association, battle lines are drawn. The mining industry is under attack. Maggie Thatcher the enemy. As hostilities escalate, ballet offers an escape for one 11-year-old. But first, he must overcome the prejudices of his peers, his family, and his community.

In the title role tonight, Haydn May proves a star of the future. Confident and engaging, he shines effortlessly. As does Samuel Torpey as his cross-dressing best friend Michael. Cheeky and knowing beyond his years, Torpey is a scene-stealer, never more so than in Expressing Yourself, a spectacular tap routine, all slash cloths, lavish lighting and brilliant choreography.

It's just one of a procession of highlights throughout the evening.

There's a laugh out loud boxing class, which allows Leo Atkin to demonstrate his innate comic timing as George, Billy's long-suffering boxing coach.

Andrea Miller, meanwhile, as the pastie-obsessed Grandma is a comic joy, while Annette McLaughlin brings a reluctant resignation to her feisty, inspirational ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, a beautifully crafted character.

Though fleeting, Nikki Gerrard's appearances as Billy's mam inject a searing emotion into proceedings, at one point leaving the auditorium hushed but for the sound of gentle sobbing.

Special mention must also go to Luke Cinque-White who, as the older Billy, dances a bold 'Swan Lake' with his younger self, winning a standing ovation mid-show.

Rightly, it's left to Martin Walsh and Scott Garnham as Billy's feuding dad and brother Tony, to flesh out the devastation of Thatcher's ability to pitch son against father, neighbour against neighbour. Theirs are heartfelt performances.

Packed with catchy anthems, Lee Hall's book and lyrics deftly capture the dark reality of the class war that is Thatcher's legacy, perhaps best summed up in the Act II opener, Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher. Featuring a goose-stepping Iron Lady, it quickly has the audience clapping along as Easington Lodge celebrates a Christmas it can't afford. Agit-prop goes mainstream. There's even a nod to Spitting image.

Hall, a master of the wicked one-liner, never shies away from using street language to maximum effect. Without Peter Darling's starkly tender choreography, however, there would be no Billy Elliot. Combined with Lee's words, the music of Elton John, and Stephen Daldry's precise direction, it's mix that makes for a darkly magical evening, and one that's unlikely to be bettered in the Capital this year.

To paraphrase one of Billy' miner pals, for the next five weeks, it's all gangin' on doon the Playhoose.

Until 22 October