Gritty and glittery musical Billy Elliot doesn’t put a foot wrong
Billy Elliot, Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
Billy Elliot, the plucky son of a striking miner who wants to be a ballet dancer, first entered the world in the 2000 hit dance film.
A stage musical version premiered in London in 2005, has played all over the world, and now makes its first appearance in Dublin. The lefty kitchen sink realism of the original film gets put through an Elton John wringer, and comes out with its core intact, but sprinkling plenty of showbiz glitter.
Most musicals aim for a single unifying style. Not here: there is a distinctive energy generated by the contrasts between the grittiness of the miner’s story; the sentimentality of the dead mother strand; and the showbiz aura of the ballet class. The maintenance of these sharp contrasts is the key to the stage version’s ability to convey the seriousness of the miners’ strike story but also create an exuberant musical entertainment.
Director Stephen Daldry cut his teeth creatively in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain. There is wonderful use of Thatcher here as a bête noire: her voice on the radio making tough with the miners; an inventive number with several Maggie masks and Maggie glove puppets, as well as a giant Maggie puppet master. Writer Lee Hall adapts his original film script to a musical book and lyrics while managing to maintain its core ethic. The Iron Lady was an inspirational godsend to the creative left wing.
Daldry’s direction is perfect, paused where necessary, conflict ramped up at times. Not a foot is put wrong. Ian MacNeil’s set design is superb, big and confident but 1980s shabby, zipping seamlessly from the local hall to Billy’s home, to a fancy London theatre for the audition. Peter Darling’s choreography provides plenty of highlights, including dancing giant dresses and a Tchaikovsky duet between Billy and his older self.
All the performances are top notch, but special mention to Adam Abbou who is spectacular as Billy. Samuel Torpey as his little gay pal Michael is a cheeky cross-dressing tornado.
The ending happens in stages. There is the first which closes the miners’ part of the story; a second ending involves Billy and his dead mum; and the third ending, which we’ll call the Elton John ending, where everybody gets into tutus. So several tones are sounded, not quite simultaneously, but consecutively. Seriousness, then sentimentality, followed by razzmatazz; brilliantly shaped storytelling. This show deserves all the Tony and Olivier Awards it got.