The Mayflower, Southampton – until 4 March
Billy Elliott is a musical steeped in the eighties, from Thatcher to Miners’ strikes by way of some very bright leg warmers it drips with the trappings of the decade…and yet, with a story about standing up for what you believe in and seizing the opportunity to escape from a life with no future it feels worryingly apt for the current political climate!
Built around the acclaimed film and with music by Elton John, Billy Elliott seemed destined for success but I’ll admit I was a little surprised to realise it had run for 11 years in London before heading out on tour. Despite some catchy tunes and excellent direction from Stephen Daldry (An Inspector Calls, Skylight) the reason this show continually resonates with audiences has been their unerring ability to find child actors who, in addition to their dance skills, are incredibly charismatic and endearing!
On tonight in the title role was Emile Gooding, a livewire bundle of wide-eyed energy surrounded by equally charming young performers. He carries the emotion of the role – particularly the scenes where he remembers his mother (Nikki Gerrard) with an impressive maturity and holds the attention just has well as his more experienced cast mates.
Martin Walsh is suitably melancholy as Dad. Torn between the needs of his youngest son and the compulsion to show solidarity with his striking friends he’s the gruff, beer drinking heart of the production. His fiery relationship with Scott Garnham’s elder son Tony provides for some of the most intense moments of the piece. As Mrs Wilkinson Annette McLaughlin seems downtrodden but provides a ray of hope and a dose of truth for Billy and his family.
Peter Darling provides some excellent choreography, notably during Solidarity as the locals and the police set out their stalls for the conflict ahead and a brilliant routine for the title character that sees him leaping into and off of the shield wall of assembled riot police!
Ultimately, despite some glorious company numbers (including a protracted message to Maggie Thatcher from the beleaguered community), the image that will stay with you long after you leave will be young Billy effortlessly gliding across the stage and loving every moment of it!