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Sydney theatre review: Billy Elliot is in town

Dust off the tutu and slide on your tap shoes because Billy Elliot is back in town. 

Based on the movie of the same name which was released back in 2000, Billy Elliot the Musical is a celebration of dance, infused with comedy, drama and inspiring music by Elton John. Originally premiering in London’s West End in 2005, the musical first toured Australia in 2007 for two years. After a 10 year absence, the production is back in Australia, playing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre until December 15, 2019. It then plays at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide from December 2019, the Regent Theatre in Melbourne from February 2020, the Crown Theatre in Perth from June 2020 and QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in Brisbane from July 2020.

The show opens by taking the audience back to 1984, to a small coal-mining village in Northern England just as the coal miners’ strike is unfolding under the Thatcher government. Billy’s mother is no longer with us, so Billy is being brought up by Jackie, his working class father who is a coal miner (played by Justin Smith) and Billy’s grandmother (played by Vivien Davies). The role of Billy Elliot is being shared by four young talented actors – Omar Abiad, River Mardesic, Wade Neilsen and Jamie Rogers. Also appearing in the cast is respected Australian actor Robert Grubb, who plays Billy’s hilarious boxing coach, George. 

We follow Billy on his life journey during some of Britain’s most turbulent times as it takes him out of the boxing ring and into Mrs Wilkinson’s (played by Kelley Abbey) ballet class, much to Jackie’s dismay. Mrs Wilkinson sees tremendous talent in Billy’s dancing and encourages him to keep at it, despite Jackie’s initial reaction to the news. Billy’s older brother Tony (played by Drew Livingston) is also a coal miner and a radical union activist. He also gives Billy a hard time after finding out he has moved from the boxing ring to the ballet studio. 

The audience are treated to incredible choreography throughout the show and most notably with the miners and police officers dancing off their differences during several scenes representing the demonstrations that took place during the strike. Amusing Margaret Thatcher puppetry and masks make an appearance during one scene, cleverly weaving in the severity of the politically unstable situation in Britain at the time without being too dark. 

As a side note, for those planning on taking young children to see Billy Elliot the Musical, there are scenes where both adult and young characters drop the F-bomb – which follows along from the original movie Billy Elliot

Ultimately, it’s Billy’s passion for dance and determination that turns the family around and inspires the community. While the coal miners eventually return to work after almost a year of striking with no clear future, we watch Billy hold his head high as he turns to walk into a new direction filled with hope and dreams of endless opportunities. 

Billy Elliot the Musical is funny, uplifting and jam-packed with superb choreography and entertaining performances from the entire cast. Whether you’re a first-timer or a Billy loyalist, this production is guaranteed to get your foot tapping during the show.

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