It has been a long time since I walked out of the Palace Theatre in Manchester and witnessed such a buzz and atmosphere as I did tonight. There was an air of disbelief, amazement and sheer respect for each and every actor upon that stage tonight. I am referring to Billy Elliot which has arrived in town just in time for Christmas and is possibly one of the most complete pieces of musical theatre I have seen this year.
Set in a northern mining town during the miners’ strike of 1984/’85, Billy Elliot is the inspirational story of a young boy’s fight to make his dream come true. Follow Billy’s journey from boxing ring to ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that unites his family, inspires his community and changes his life forever.
Featuring iconic music by Elton John, phenomenal dance and a powerful story, this uplifting and spectacular theatrical event has won the hearts of millions since it opened in London and has gone on to captivate audiences around the world.
Leading this exceptional cast is 13-year-old Lewis Smallman as Billy Elliot. Smallman is simply sensational from the moment he takes to the stage till the moment he leads the entire company in the finale dance. His on stage relationships with his father (Martin Walsh) and ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson (Annette McLaughlin) are a joy to watch as they develop. But perhaps the most heart warming partnership is that with Billy’s best friend Michael played by local lad, 10-year-old Samuel Torpey. Michael is a gift of a role for an actor of any age and Torpey puts in one of the best comedic performances I have ever seen on stage by a young actor.
Other notable performances come from Andrea Miller as Grandma, Scott Garnham as Billy’s older brother Tony and Daniel Page who puts in a stellar performance as ballet school pianist Mr Braithwaite.
The vast stage at the Palace was used to excellent effect with Ian Macneil’s set moving in and out of the wings at times creating a huge blank canvass for Smallman and the rest of the cast to fill it with the sensational choreography from Peter Darling. Lighting from Rick Fisher was thoughtful and executed faultlessly. The orchestra under the baton of Patrick Hurley totalled 9 and were every bit as impressive as those performing on stage.
At over 3 hours including the interval this is a long show, some may say epic, but you really don’t notice as you are hypnotised into the story being told on stage. For me this is probably the best musical to perform at the Palace since The Lion King. It is gritty, emotional and hilarious in equal measures. The script calls for some ‘colourful’ language even from the young actors, but this somehow adds to the charm of the show. If you are easily offended, then maybe you should think twice about seeing this.
Billy Elliot may not be a traditional Christmas show, there is Panto at the Opera House if you want that, but what it is a show of exceptionally high quality that should not be missed at any cost.
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 30th November 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★★
Picture: Alastair Muir