Billy Elliot: The Musical

Billy Elliot: The Musical
Music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall. Free-Rain, directed by Jarrad West. The Q, Queanbeyan. 11 April to 5 May 2024

After a quiet opening introducing protagonist Billy Elliot (Fergus Paterson in the children’s cast of the session we attended) and his best friend, Michael Caffrey (Charlie Murphy in this children’s cast), we meet Billy’s interesting family: his strongly principled unionist miner father, Jackie (Joe Dinn); brother, Tony (Lachlan Elderton), also strongly unionist and a miner himself; and outrageously irreverent Grandma (Alice Ferguson).

The family, living in a small poverty-stricken mining town in County Durham, is as short of money as the other mining families in the district, and the miners are considering striking against Thatcherist hardline politics intended to keep them poor and powerless.  Billy’s father nonetheless pays tuition fees for Billy to learn to box.  But Billy discovers the majesty of a quite different sport: ballet.

Of course, when his father learns that Billy has been using his precious boxing-tuition fees to study ballet, he is ropable.  But he may have met his match in Billy’s ballet teacher, the fiercely jaded Mrs Wilkinson (Janie Lawson).

You’ll already know that eventually the entire town comes to understand — though how it does so is left largely to our imagination — that Billy’s talent warrants investment.  But until then the battle for the town’s ballet teacher to develop Billy’s raw talent, the battle for opportunities for Billy to practise, the battle for recognition of his art as a potential vocation, and the emotional obstacles that these difficulties pose, form the substance of the musical.

If this sounds like a joyless prospect, rest assured that it is not so.  The musical numbers, some of them very complicated interweavings almost operatic in their complexity, were consistently arranged and performed beautifully, and Fergus Paterson did some outstanding solo singing.  The sound was beautifully balanced throughout, its only fault lying in being often far too loud for comfort.  Utilitarian miners’ clothing met a great contrast in ballerinas’ tulle and other adornments, and the lighting on the wide-ranging scenes was spot on.

What made the performance very special, though, were the dance sequences, beautifully choreographed by Michelle Heine: interestingly challenging in their complexity, many of them, and executed precisely but with feeling, and involving dozens in a single sequence.  And the young dance ensemble (in this performance, the Easington Cast) showed talent well beyond that of the budding ballerinas they played.

What imbued the show with real spirit was the interplay of its highly motivated characters, emotional but not overly so, and their natural timing, which maintained the pace very well and kept the audience engaged throughout.

John P. Harvey.

Images: at top, Janie Lawson and the Easington cast; and lower, Fergus Paterson, as Billy Elliot, in Billy Elliot: The Musical. Photographer: Janelle McMenamin.

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