[THEATRE REVIEW] BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL @ National Theatre Review (2024)

Photography by Ben Fon | Fon Photography | fon.com.au

Billy Elliot The Musical remains as moving and evocative as when I first saw it at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 1st January, 2009 … and what a magnificent show it is. 

For me, this is up there with the best musicals brought to the stage. It is based on the successful 2000 film, which starred Jamie Bell as Billy.

Full of drama and pathos, with a series of comic interludes, the musical has been brilliantly written by Lee Hall (book and lyrics) and orchestrated by Elton John (music).

We are transported back in time to Margaret Thatcher era Britain and the dour struggle by miners at the time.

It is 1984 in county Durham, in the north of England.

Eleven-year-old Billy Elliot (Sebastian Sero), whose mother died, is being raised by his father, Jackie (Chris Hughes) and gran (Barbara Hughes).

Dad and his elder son Tony (Joshua Sumner) are mine workers.

They, along with their fellow underground employees, refuse to accept the Conservative government’s desire to reduce the power of trade unions.

They go on strike – the longest national shutdown in British history – to try to prevent colliery closures.

Before their action ends, many of the workers will be living hand to mouth as their meagre resources dwindle.

Against this backdrop, Billy has no interest in participating in Saturday morning boxing lessons.

Instead, he stumbles his way into a ballet class being given subsequently at the same venue. 

He was just meant to be handing over the keys to the no-nonsense instructor, Mrs Wilkinson (Melanie Ott).

Instead, he is quickly swept up in what he sees and when he finally gets to show what he’s made of his natural talent is obvious.

Encouraged by his teacher, there’ll be hell to pay as his father, brother and the hard-nosed community find out what he has been up to. 

As they see it, ballet is no suitable pursuit for the son of working-class stock.

The two strands of the narrative – the strike and its impact on the community, and Billy’s personal struggle for acceptance – are superbly interwoven.

It is not hard to see why the show has won a multitude of Tony, Olivier and Helpmann Awards, among others.

CLOC has well and truly done it justice in terms of performance, staging and execution.

The power and passion of the storyline are laid bare.

Sebastian Sero, who alternates the role of Billy with Lukas Elliot, is a dextrous knockout. He sings, dances and acts with aplomb. You can’t take your eyes off him.

Particularly noteworthy is the strength, the fire and disdain integral to the roles of father and older son. Chris Hughes and Joshua Sumner are, at times, positively frightening.

Melanie Ott is a revelation as the strident ballet instructor who refuses to be intimidated. Her vocalisation and larger than life characterisation are inspiring.

Barbara Hughes delightfully leans into the role of grandma with much humour and warmth.

Ric Birkett, too, has a wow of a time as boxing trainer George, not afraid to give youngsters a clip over the ears.

Among other standouts is Harrison Lloyd, who alternates the role of Billy’s crossdressing friend Michael Caffrey with Angus Hutchinson. He brings a natural gregariousness to his role.

The collective in Billy Elliot is embracing and potent with standout tunes including Solidarity and Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher.

They are aided by compelling choreography from Lynette White, who co-directs the production, alongside Chris White.

It is the latter’s big, bold set designs, coupled with video footage of the era, that help breathe authenticity into Billy Elliot The Musical.

So too the costuming from Victoria Horne, including miners’ and police uniforms.

The spectacle is enhanced by Brad Alcock’s lighting and sound from Marcello Lo Ricco, while musical direction from David Clausen-Wisken is spot on.

While I have seen Billy Elliot several times, it never fails to pull at my heart strings.

Bravo to CLOC Musical Theatre for bringing to the fore the stirring emotion inherent in the work. The musical is playing at The National Theatre in St Kilda until 25th May, 2024.

Review by Alex First