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Billy Elliot the Musical – Review

To cut to the chase, this is quite simply one of the very best British musicals that I have seen.

Lee Hall’s musical masterpiece brilliantly combines comedy with the harsh realities and struggles of families during the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, leaving the audience laughing one moment and then on the verge of tears in the next.

The use of a largely young cast may present challenges for many musicals, but every member of the cast of Billy Elliot (young and old) is truly outstanding. The tension between miners and police is very evident (possibly because of Lee Hall’s rather vulgar lyrics and scriptwriting) and Billy’s performance shows perfectly how he is stuck between his heart, which lays on dancing, and his heritage, which lays on mining.

Ian MacNeil’s set design is very commendable. This was the first time that I had seen the black brickwork at the rear of a stage exposed to an audience, and it really added to the whole atmosphere of the production. The main communicator of location was a three wall domestic setting which could be a household, hall or even an outdoor environment, with clever sections of set that could quickly move onto, around, or off stage (including spectacular, albeit unreliable, lifts/scenery automation) to create a variety of locations within each.

Rick Fisher’s lighting design couldn’t go amiss either. At every moment the mood is perfectly presented through lighting, showing anger, or tranquility with red and blue uplighting into dry ice (low-lying fog) in ‘Angry Dance’ and ‘Swan Lake’ respectively. There is also one sorrowfully beautiful and solemn scene where the miners return back into the pits after the strike has ended and Billy watches on (about to start life afresh) as each individual light from each miner’s head torch merges to form one unified and blinding, but fading, beam of light as the miners descend beneath the surface of the earth. I also loved Fisher’s other creative decisions, such as the simple but brilliant effect of lights hung from a rising parallel bar in ‘Electricity’ and their beams and projections slowly crawling downstage.

The set and lighting design weren’t the only strong points of the production, though. Nicky Gillibrand’s costume design was also a major contributor to the authenticity of Billy Elliot, among countless other little touches that make this one of the very best British musicals that I have seen.

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