As the previous London production of this great musical was so iconic, it is difficult for those of us who remember it not to think back to it. And indeed, it is all so familiar – and sitting in the Curve Theatre in Leicester watching proceedings unfold, I thought to myself, as the late Jim Steinman once wrote, “It’s all coming back to me now”. Yet this is an entirely different production, and gloriously reimagined. One way or another it manages to shave twenty minutes (perhaps a little bit more) off the West End production’s running time, without sacrificing any of the show’s salient points.
Billy (Jaden Shentall-Lee on press night, sharing the role throughout the run with Leo Hollingsworth, Alfie Napolitano and Samuel Newby) is, for those not in the know, a working-class boy from Easington, a village in County Durham, growing up at the time of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful monumental effort to prevent colliery closures by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, who had reason to believe it was better to import coal from overseas because it was cheaper (at the time).
At a time when there is a growing cost of living crisis, elements of the story are very relatable – Jackie Elliot (Joe Caffrey), Billy’s father, is scrambling around for enough money to keep him and his family going. Arguably, Jackie’s position is more relatable now than it was a generation ago, with his mother (an engaging Rachel Izen) in the house as well as Billy and his elder son Tony (Luke Baker) in the house. It doesn’t help, either, that his wife (Jessica Daley) has passed on – and as feminists have pointed out, this only compounds the musical’s downplaying of the substantial role of women during the prolonged strike.
The sound design (Adam Fisher) is excellent – it’s fair to say that not every big musical production is able to make every lyric and piece of spoken dialogue heard clearly: it’s an even greater achievement given the distinctly non-Leicestershire accents at Curve for this production, set as it is in the north-east. This production seems to have made less use of specific phrases (the West End production’s programme had an entire page dedicated to explaining the meaning of the terminology used in the show), and by doing so has made it all more accessible.
The available stage space is used magnificently, with the House of Elliot (my own term) on three levels. I hesitate to use the word ‘immersive’ as that term has different connotations to a show in which the audience very much stays seated in a typical theatre configuration throughout, though with characters repeatedly entering and leaving through the auditorium proper, patrons sat in the stalls feel more involved in the action than would otherwise be the case.
On paper, the blocking in ‘Solidarity’ in Act One is not great: the adult characters, squabbling and fighting against one another as part of the miners’ industrial action, cut into Mrs Wilkinson (Sally Ann Triplett) and her class of child (would be) dancers too intrusively. Then again, it is indicative of current affairs interfering with the lives of innocent children, serving as a useful reminder that the miners themselves were not the only ones affected by the dispute.
George Dyer leads an enthusiastic orchestra, and the sheer amount of talent on stage results in a production that flows well and is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Michael (Prem Masani on press night, sharing the role throughout the run with Bobby Donald, Lucas Haywood and Ethan Shimwell) gets his moment to shine in ‘Expressing Yourself’, in a scene that has more poignancy than ever before, in these days of greater acceptance of people who don’t necessarily ascribe to binary norms.
This show’s central message of sticking together (one of the musical numbers is called ‘Solidarity’ for a reason) despite whatever life and the political powers that be might throw at people is, whether by default or by design (or both), highly topical. It gets a bit hammy in places, and rather more tears are shed than the rough, hardy northern setting would reasonably be expected to have. But there are some hearty laughs in a fiery, boisterous and splendid production that left me with the distinct feeling that this will be a show that will stick in the memory for a long time to come.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The first new UK production of Billy Elliot the Musical is now open at Leicester’s Curve theatre. Directed by Nikolai Foster (A Chorus Line, Sunset Boulevard – At Home, West Side Story), the Made at Curve musical is now running until Saturday 20 August.
The titular role of Billy Elliot, the miner’s son with a passion for ballet, is performed by Leo Hollingsworth from Nottinghamshire, Alfie Napolitano from Northamptonshire, Samuel Newby from Hertfordshire and Jaden Shentall-Lee, whose family live in Leicestershire.
Billy’s dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson is played by West End and Broadway legend Sally Ann Triplett, whose iconic roles include Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (National Theatre and Theatre Royal Drury Lane) and Young Phyllis in Follies (Shaftesbury Theatre), as well as Martha in the recent Made at Curve UK tour of White Christmas.
Michael, Billy’s best friend, is performed by Bobby Donald, Lucas Haywood, Ethan Shimwell and Leicester’s Prem Masani, who makes his stage debut in the production.
All hailing from the East Midlands, Pearl Ball, Caitlin Cole, Lola Johnstone and Ellie Copping – who returns to Curve’s stage having previously appeared as Susan Waverly in the 2018 Made at Curve production of White Christmas – share the role of Debbie, Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter.
Joe Caffrey, who previously performed in the West End production of Billy Elliot the Musical, joins the cast as Billy’s Dad Jackie, while Broadway and West End sensation Rachel Izen plays Billy’s Grandma Edna. Luke Baker (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the Made at Curve UK tour of Grease) plays Billy’s older brother Tony and Jessica Daley (recently seen in Made at Curve productions of White Christmas and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber) plays Billy’s Mam.
The adult company is completed by Craig Armstrong as George, Minal Patel as Big Davey, Cameron Johnson as Mr. Braithwaite, Micky Cochrane as Scab, Robin Paley Yorke as Lesley, Christopher Wright as Mr. Wilkinson, Michael Lin as Pit Supervisor, Jonathan Dryden Taylor as Posh Dad, William Atkinson as Older Billy and ensemble, and Steph Asamoah, Tori McDougall, Anna Rossa and Louie Wood as members of the ensemble.
The young company of ballet dancers and boxers, most of which are Midlands-based or have local family connections, features Willow Adamson, Maddie Seren Ashley, Oliver Back, Aneeka Kaur Bains, Ella-Rose Blackburn Price, Harvey Clarridge, Lily Corkill, Miley Dalton, Matisse Didier, Isabelle Francis, Ethan Galeotti, Rahul Gandabhai, Isla Granville, Uzziah Gray, Orlaith Rae Hunt, Ava Rose Johnson, Ava Mia Komisarczuk, Kyrelle Lammy, Lienna-Jean Langdon, Tahlia Maddox, Lorcan Murphy, Nesisa Mhindu, Sophia Pirie, Hayden Polanco, Gopal Thacker and Mirabelle Varakantam.
The Made at Curve production of Billy Elliot the Musical is choreographed by Lucy Hind, with Musical Supervisor and Musical Director George Dyer. The set is designed by Michael Taylor with costumes designed by Edd Lindley. Completing the creative team are Lighting Designer and Curve Associate Ben Cracknell, Sound Designer Adam Fisher, Props Supervisor Lizzie Frankl, Wigs, Hair and Make-Up Supervisor Helen Keane for Campbell Young Associates, RYTDS Resident Assistant Director Lilac Yosiphon, Birkbeck Trainee Director Thyrza Abrahams, Associate Choreographer James Berkery, Associate Sound Designer Oliver Durrant, Assistant Musical Director Josh Cottell, Assistant Choreographer Joanna Goodwin, Dialect Coach Elspeth Morrison, Fight Director Kev McCurdy and Head Chaperone Helen ‘H’ Mclaren-Frost.
Children’s casting is managed by Jo Hawes, with adult casting led by Curve Associate Kay Magson CDG.
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL
WED 13 JUL – SAT 20 AUG 2022