Review: Billy Elliot at Leicester Curve

Book & Lyrics: Lee Hall

Music: Elton John

Director: Nikolai Foster

Choreographer: Lucy Hind

It’s taken six years after the original London production to get Billy Elliot back on stage. With inflation skyrocketing and public sector strikes gathering pace, the background couldn’t be anymore relavent and this contemporary, gritty revival by Leicester Curve is perfect at fitting the bill.

Nikolai Foster’s direction verges in the territory of creating a family drama over a musical and that’s no critism. It heightens your admiration and relationship with the characters and the struggles they encounter.

From the getgo the large esemble sweep you up in height of unrest in the community to quickly then bring focus to Billy Elliot,oblivious to the chaos and enjoying dancing around his bedroom.  This structure continues as you see smaller intimate scenes play out between the monumentous backdrop of the full company on stage boiling up the rage between the workers and the police.

Foster also uses this production to highlight how the future rests on the shoulders of the young. The young ensemble perform Expressing Yourself on a  stage flooded with rainbow lighting. Their youthful energy sends the message loud and proud that people should be in a position to enjoy life and have nothing stopping them from achieving their dreams.

Rachel Izen’s Grandma highlights someone who has been through so much yet hasn’t had the chance to live a life full of love and no regrets. Izen belts out Grandma’s Song with sincerity and passion, sweetly reminiscing over a life she had and the love she found but without the chance to persue her ultimate desire. It’s an inspired choice by Forster to have the figure of Grandad in the background which in turn creates one in a number of moments in the production that you’ll find a lump in your throat.

The production design by Michael Taylor is an empty space full of paraphernalia and signage from coal mines. Taylor’s design creates an industrial playground which wraps itslelf into the Curve and centres this production in the depths of the Pits, complete with fences that cage the community and Billy in. The set is notably used to great affect during Solidarity, where the esemble create a revole that segregates the stage into quadrants. The Policeman, the Miners, the dancing class are all divided from each other with tensions building. Billy (Alfie Napolitano) and Mrs Wilkenson (Sally Anne Triplett) remain in the final quadrant as Billy starts to refine his talent. It’s a powerful image that shows against a backdrop of a community at war with the state, the power of the arts can be used not only to escape but to break down divides. It also brings focus to the idea that against the odds Billy has a chance to break down the walls society places infront of him.

Ben Cracknell incoperates his huge physical lighting design into the set. Banks of lighting fly in to the stage casting shadows and silhouettes throughout in an epic fashion while highlighting dream sequences in a spectacular way.  Cracknell’s lighting, joined with Taylor’s set, Eddie Lindley’s 80s themed costumes and sparks of pyrotechnics, all culminate together to create a visually perfect production.

Rather than tap, which heavily influnced the original production, Lucy Hind’s contemporary choreography fits right at home. It creates a more grounded and real performance while still being emotionally breathtaking.

Napolitano achieves a mid show standing ovation during an empassioned performance of Electicity, a recognition of the determination and talent he brings to the role. Napolitano is one of four Billy’s who each come from the local area that the Curve serves. They are sure to inspire many more. Not only is Napolitano a talented dancer, but performs well as Billy battles with a lack of self confidence and a level of vulnerability against a world full of barriers and division.

Equally, Ethan Shimwell’s performance of Michael contrasts well to that of Napolitano. Shimwell is confident, buoyant and proud which makes it all the more heartbreaking in the closing moment of the show where despite Billy’s opporties, Michael is left abandoned and lost just like communities following the closure of the pits.

Triplett’s Mrs Wilkenson is central to not just the growth of Billy, but the change that happens in the Elliot household. Triplett brings a very matter of fact yet friendly and youthful persona to the dance teacher who unlocks not just Billy’s potential but helping Billy’s Dad (Joe Caffrey) put aside his own expectations to understand and appreciate his son’s talent.

Caffrey’s performance as a Dad battling being a single dad trying to himself and his family together is heartbreaking to see and at points difficult to watch. Meanwhile Luke Baker’s portrayal of Tony, is equally as powerful, a character that is close to being engufled in rage while protecting his family’s future as pit workers. It’s in Act Two where you see Baker’s performance step up a gear with a level of vulnerability and realisation of  the importance of family.

Complete with an emsemble of over 20, the production is ever moving and never loses pace. Backed up further by some stellar design choices, this grittily staged masterpiece revival keeps its roots firmly in the ground, while also being staggeringly beautiful. This brand new production by the Curve has the potential to move you to tears a number of times with it’s abilitiy to stylistically create a sense of reality and intimacy.

This slick production runs at around 2.5 hours including the interval and in that time you become drawn in with fantastic character development and enormously powerful company numbers. The team at the Curve have a huge hit on their hands and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if it has a longer future ahead.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Five Coins

Value for Money Comments:
With a stellar cast and fantastic staging you couldn’t ask for anymore from this revival priced between £10 and £52. For more info on the value for money rating, click here

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