Review: New UK production of Billy Elliot: The Musical is Electric!

Mrs Wilkinson in a dance class with Billy - production image from Billy Elliot: The Musical
Sally Ann Triplett (Mrs. Wilkinson) with Jaden Shentall-Lee (Billy) and Pearl Ball (Debbie) in Billy Elliot: The Musical. Photography by Marc Brenner


An all-new production of Billy Elliot: The Musical is quite the coup for Curve Theatre. This iconic show was much revered when it ran in the West End for years. This first, new UK production of the musical can only be seen here in Leicester until the 20th August – but, with West End producers allegedly beating a path to Curve’s door, the future looks bright for this cracker of a show.

Billy Elliot: a story of being pulled both to and from your home

Based on Stephen Daldry‘s acclaimed 2000 film – which catapulted Jamie Bell into stardom – with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, Billy Elliot tells the story of an 11-year-old lad growing up with a burning talent in a community that is burning down.

It’s 1984, Britain is under the grip of the Iron Lady and the miners’ strike is in full swing. Grieving from the death of his wife, Billy’s father struggles to keep his family together and food on the table whilst staying on the picket line.

Growing up just down the road from Easington Colliery in one of the many small North East towns whose world revolved around the workings of the local pit, Billy’s story of being pulled both to and from his homeplace, its community and its traditions resonated clearly with my own experience and that of many of my peers when growing up.

It’s fair to say that there was/is a North East mentality of not getting above your station, of ingrained homophobia, misogyny, and an underdog mentality that’s as true today as it was in 1984, especially in some of these deprived towns and villages.

Ever mindful of my own working-class roots, I’m convinced that coming down to Leicester to attend De Montfort University was seen by many as ‘getting above myself.’ Goodness knows what they’d have made of me following Billy’s lead into the Royal School of Ballet.

Outside of these ravaged North East towns, we may question why there should be so much resistance to Billy’s talents, yet Nikolai Foster’s direction sets the scene perfectly highlighting a community controlled and contained for generations before being tossed aside by an uncaring government – little more than collateral damage on the way to privatisation and profit.

Throughout the many fight scenes between strikers, scabs and the police, Thatcher’s nasal whine can be heard, as recordings of her dehumanising diatribe orchestrates the violence in which Billy finds himself caught up in and witness to.

Exceptional cast performances that had us laughing and crying

Playing Billy Elliot on press night was the exceptional Jaden Shentall Lee – son of Lisa Scott Lee of Steps – whose energy, wit, vulnerability and dance moves were astounding. Like Billy, this is a lad with a big future ahead of him. He is well supported by a talented adult cast including the convincing Joe Craffrey as Dad; Sally Ann Triplet as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson; and the sublimely voiced Jessica Daley as the living memory of Billy’s Mam.

Billy, his Mam and Mrs Wilkinson’s performance of ‘The Letter’ ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as did ‘Once We Were Kings’ sung by the chorus of miners, helmet lights shining through the darkness as they boarded the Skylark (the miners’ cage), descending back to their work in the pits as broken men on the verge of extinction.

Particular commendation must also go to Ben Cracknell’s stunning lighting and Michael Taylor’s clever set design, which combine to magnificent effect. Tonight, Curve’s epic main stage has never looked more breathtaking.

Theatre is back!

It was wonderful to see Curve so full for a press night performance that has been much looked forward to and Billy Elliot: The Musical does not disappoint. Curve has always had a reputation for producing world class theatre and with Billy Elliot: The Musical they’ve created something that ‘sets sparks alight inside you. Like Electricity.’

Billy Elliot: The Musical at Curve has proved that theatre is back, and we couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Billy Elliot: The Musical runs until the 20th August.

Click here to book your tickets on the Curve Theatre website.

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