Theatre review: Billy Elliot at Manchester Palace Theatre

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New to Manchester and on its first UK tour, the full production of Billy Elliot has arrived at the Palace Theatre and if you haven’t seen it before, you must.

This is technical, creative, passionate musical theatre at its most British and brilliant and showcases the talents of some the most hardworking young actors you will ever see.

I don’t normally wax quite so lyrical in a review, but then it is rare I genuinely run the gamut of emotions during a theatre production.

Advice: Wear waterproof mascara.

Here the harsh realities of 1980s Britain are brought to human experience through the eyes of 12-year-old Billy Elliot, a motherless young boy brought up in a proud mining family, his dad and brother both out on strike in a community where Maggie Thatcher is the enemy incarnate.

Against this dark backdrop of loss, financial hardship and political strife Billy finds he has a talent for ballet and the story follows from there.

So far so serious-sounding but don’t be fooled, this show is as funny as it is poignant, filled with gags and the show utterly stolen by very small, very adorable-looking children uttering unexpected expletives and exploring very adult themes with maturity, wit and perfect timing in the broad tones of the working-class north east.

It is quite impossible to explain how good the children are in this production, set against the West End standard technical wizardry and creative, unexpected, staging and within an ensemble of extraordinarily talented, all-singing, dancing, performers.

Played by the diminutive 13-year-old Lewis Smallman, one of four ‘Billys’ who rotate the role, Billy is on stage for almost the entire of this production, his repertoire of talent and stamina almost unbelievable as he dances, acts, sing and even performs acrobatics, his emotions brought to life through movement and the perfection of Elton John’s rousing, touching, score.

It is the scenes between young Billy and his best friend the cross-dressing Michael (here played by the endearing Samuel Torpey from Manchester), both misfits, finding their way in a largely incredulous mining town, which leave you with high and lows.

Together with the young sexually forthright Debbie and the ballerinas of Mrs Wilkinson’s class, their language is blue, their dance routines complex and wonderfully expressive as their find their way with mixture of naivete and knowing.

Musically, this is wonderfully catchy, the audience emitting a gasp of anticipation as Billy begins the famous number ‘Electricity’ and technically it is incredible.

This production is, indeed, electric.

Five stars.

*Billy Elliot is at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until January 28.