7 February to 4 March 2017
Reviewed by Katie Pickford
An evocative atmosphere and heart lifting story.
I’m a big musical theatre fan but had somehow managed to miss seeing Billy Elliot despite it being on stage and touring for over 10 years. When I saw it was coming to Southampton I was excited to get tickets.
The show is set just before the miners’ strike in 1984 in North East England and opens with a lone boy walking down through the stalls listening to a transistor radio which evolves into the stirring song “The Stars Look Down”. This set the tone of the show ahead – evocative lighting, clever staging and creative choreography.
During the first act we met the Elliot family: Dad Jackie – a miner and widower, Son Tony – also a miner, 12 year old Billy and let’s not forget Grandma. Jackie is trying to hold the family together with the threat of the miners’ strike and would like Billy to go to boxing class each Saturday morning. The next class to use the same hall as boxing is Mrs Wilkinson’s ballet class. Billy has a natural enjoyment of dance and is intrigued. Mrs Wilkinson soon finds Billy’s innate talent and wants him and coaches him to audition for The Royal Ballet.
The backdrop of the miners’ strike gives this story its gritty edge. The dancing throughout (even with the ballet class) has a slightly rough round the edges finish which somehow makes it feel more rooted in reality.
I really enjoyed the choreography. It was masculine, strong but innovative. Each song was outstandingly staged. But Grandma’s Song, Solidarity and Expressing Yourself need a special mention. I found myself not knowing which part of the stage to watch there was so much going on.
Whilst the setting was quite sombre and the conflict between the police and the miners and Billy and his Dad was upsetting to watch there are a number of great comedy moments. Bradley Mayfield as Michael was delightful as Billy’s cheerful cross-dresser pal and Daniel Page as Mr Braithwaite (the pianist for the ballet class) brought the house down with his, at first, subtle, almost silent comedy performance, but building into full on physical comedy during “Born to Boogie”. He’s a great little(!) mover!
The second act is set 6 months after the first and we learn the strike is still going (now in its 8th month). Billy missed his audition but still has to dance. When he’s angry, sad, happy. It’s just within him at all times. Jackie slowly realises that his pride is getting in the way of his child’s happiness and so arranges to go to London so Billy can try again.
I won’t give any spoilers but I came away feeling uplifted, heart warmed and toes tired from tapping!
The whole company gave exceptional performances but I must pick out Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson. She gave the character grit, grace and elegance and made it look effortless. Emile Gooding as Billy was amazing. He was on stage for the entire show and carried the story with integrity. I feel great things are ahead of him.
The show does run for 3 hours which was quite long. We were fully entertained the whole time but it’s worth knowing it will be a late night.
It’s also worth noting there is strong language throughout.
As usual we enjoyed our trip to the Mayflower. We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant opposite but the theatre does have its own restaurant on the third floor serving modern Mediterranean cuisine. You can even choose to have your dessert during the interval!
Whilst the theatre itself doesn’t have a car park there are lots nearby as well as the railway station. We choose Grosvenor Square just a short 5 min walk away and it only cost £2 flat fee after 6pm.
Tickets cost from £22 to £65 (booking fees may apply).
Billy Elliot is at theMayflower Theatre in Southampton until 4 March 2017. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 02380 711811.
Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE | 02380 711811