Review - Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace Theatre, London)

Billy Elliot has been entertaining audiences on the West End since 2005, and yet until its closure was announced a few months ago, it had never really been on my radar. Probably because as it had been running for 11 years, I didn't really anticipate it closing any time soon, and expected that one day I'd just finally get around to it! However, as Billy Elliot's final performance will take place on April 9th, I took a trip up to London with a few friends in order to finally cross it off my list. 
Based on the classic british 2000 film of the same name, Billy Elliot the story of a young boy who discovers a passion for dancing when he stumbles into a ballet class which takes place right after his usual boxing lessons. However, while Billy's dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson encourages him to strive for success, his father and brother are more preoccupied with the coal miners strike, which, if unsuccessful, threatens to destroy life as they know it. 

In as show which is predominantly about dance, it is unsurprising that Billy Elliot features some really fantastic choreography, from Solidarity, where the bitter clash between miners and policemen is juxtaposed with the innocence of Mrs Wilkinson's dance class' rehearsals, to the Swan Lake sequence, in which Billy dreams of his life as a dancer and dances a stunning pas de deux with his older self. 

With regards to the music of the show, while a couple of numbers are perhaps a little bit repetitive, for the most part Billy Elliot is packed with brilliant songs. There were several standout numbers too, such as Shine (sung by rapturously by Ruthie Henshall's Mrs Wilkinson) and The Letter, a heartbreaking exchange between Billy and his deceased mother. 

Set and lighting design is striking, with muted colours and an intentional drabness which symbolises the bleakness of life in a coal mining town in 1984. 

But really the whole show rests on the young actor playing Billy. The role requires a performer with exceptional dance skills, brilliant comic timing and a fantastic grasp of the emotional moments in the show. Happily, Brodie Donougher (one of the four young actors who currently share the role) gives a faultless performance. His dancing skills in particular are enviable and he will no doubt go on to join the ranks of other past Billys who have made a names themselves after leaving the show (such as George Maguire and Layton Williams). Particularly entertaining are scenes which take place in the Elliot household, as Gillian Elisa, Deka Walmsley and Matthew Seadon-Young as Billy's grandma, father and older brother respectively all have absolutely brilliant chemistry, and offer a glimpse into the hardships of their family, thus making their individual conflicts and prejudices with Billy's dancing aspirations more understandable. 

Billy Elliot is clearly a benchmark for other British musicals which draw their inspiration from real life events, such as Made In Dagenham and (to a lesser extent perhaps) Kinky Boots, which were both adapted from films too. But both pale in comparison to the gritty realism presented on stage in Billy Elliot. 

If like me you took it for granted that Billy Elliot would be on the West End indefinitely, and as a result, you've not seen it yet, then there's still time. The West End production closes on April 9th, but the UK tour visiting venues up and down the country in 2016/17. Make sure you see it somehow!