Billy Elliot The Musical | Review
After an 11 year run in the West End with rave reviews, Billy Elliot The Musical has arrived at the Liverpool Empire as part of a limited national tour. It runs for just over 2 weeks until 27 May 2017 and tickets have been hard to come by, especially for the matinees and at weekends, so I was delighted to be able to attend on Thursday 11 May 2017 with my Mum. Although it was a ‘school night’, I did ask my 9 year old daughter to come first, but she decided she would rather go to her 11+ training!
Liverpool Empire is an old, traditional theatre right in the centre of Liverpool and next to the main train station, Lime Street. Usually it’s an easy half hour train ride from the Wirral, but due to track replacements the local trains are not currently running through to Lime Street. Luckily, I was at work anyway and so had an easy walk across town from the Pier Head to meet my mum, who came into Liverpool on the bus. I decided there was no point venturing home to only have to come back again, so we decided to meet early and have some food and a drink before the show.
The Empire is ideally situated for before/after show drinks or food. My last visit was with my daughter, to see Gangsta Granny – which was an 11am Sunday matinee – and we went for lunch afterwards in one of the new(ish) venues inside Lime Street Station itself. Situated in part of the old building, with the most amazing windows, high ceilings and chandeliers, it was great for a quick lunch so I decided to venture there again with ‘Gangsta Granny’ herself, as it’s a 30 second walk across the road from The Empire and so we could relax until just before the show. So, fed and watered, we sauntered across the road and were childishly delighted to find that we were to enter the theatre on the red carpet – although no one took our photos!
The Empire itself is well maintained and comfortable, with plush velvet seats. It has a rich programme of events all year, ranging from the annual Pantomime to touring productions of plays and shows, with a smattering of ballet and opera. We tend to favour seats in the rear stalls, as the rows are very sloped allowing the little ones to see easily. On this occasion we were sitting nearer the front of the stalls, which was great for us but may not have been best for little ones. A fairly new introduction is seat service of drinks and snacks. Each seat has a menu card with soft and alcoholic drinks, sweets, savoury snacks and sandwiches. You can order and pay either directly to one of the staff who are walking around, or on the phone app. Your order is then delivered to your seat. Ours came within a couple of minutes, which is certainly better than waiting in the queue in the Foyer.
And so to the show! Based on the 2000 film, also directed by Stephen Daldry, it follows the story of 11-year-old Billy Elliot, a coal miner’s son living in County Durham during the 84/85 Miners’ Strike. Billy’s life is changed when he stumbles upon a ballet class during his weekly boxing lesson, starts to attend and discovers that he has a passion and talent for dance. His struggle be allowed to dance and then attend an audition with the Royal Ballet initially alienates everyone but ultimately inspires his family, friends and community.
I remember seeing the film years ago and loving the soundtrack, which featured songs and bands from the era, mainly T-Rex. The stage show, however, features a score by Elton John and Lee Hall which I had never come across before. Despite lacking any songs that you’ll be singing on the bus home, the score is clever and slips easily between ‘dance’ numbers and the grittier strike numbers – featuring miners, scabs and police. These numbers are very effective with strong drums and light effects.
Of course, the main focus of the story is the dancing and most of this is lead by the young Billy. Due to regulations about the hours they can work, there are a number of different sets of the younger cast members, including 4 Billy’s. The cast we saw featured Adam Abbou as Billy. What can I say? His performance was simply stunning. From initial reluctance, through a growing passion for dance, ending with his amazing audition, Adam portrayed the struggles of Billy perfectly. The range of his dancing, and acting, was incredible – tap, modern, ballet and gymnastics. The Swan Lake ‘pas de deux’ with his older self (Luke Cinque-White) was simply amazing, ending with the young Billy flying across the stage.
The ensemble cast were all exceptional, but we especially enjoyed Bradley Mayfield as Billy’s young cross-dressing friend Michael. He was funny, quirky and endearing – and also a brilliant dancer. His double act with Billy in the first act, dancing with giant dresses, was a real crowd pleaser! We loved Anna-Jane Casey as Billy’s warm-hearted yet cynical (and foul mouthed) dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson. Martin Walsh also stands out as Billy’s father. Widowed, with 2 sons and an ailing mother, he initially comes over as a sad figure who reacts with horror to the idea of his son dancing, but comes to support him.
The publicity ‘blurb’ recommends the show for ages 8+, due to some strong language but with a running time well over 3 hours including the interval, I think it would be a struggle for even slightly older children. For teens and adults though, it is simply one of the best shows around and not to be missed. If it tours again, I will be there!
You can buy tickets here.
NB: Alison received complimentary tickets to the Liverpool Empire in exchange for this review but all views and opinions are her own.