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February 3, 2020

Review: Billy Elliot the Musical at the Festival Theatre

Billy. Elliot.

Those two simple words fill my body with feelings of nostalgia, acceptance, tenacity, forgiveness and perseverance.

When I first saw the film in the early 2000s, it made a lasting impression on me.

Imagine my excitement, when Elton John wrote the music and Lee Hall provided the book and lyrics to turn this coming of age dance drama film into an award winning and global phenomenon musical.

While Adelaide missed out on the original 2008/2009 tour, Universal Theatrical Group, Working Title Films, Greene Light Stage, Michael Coppel Entertainments and Louise Withers Presents are now bringing the 10th Anniversary Australian Tour to Adelaide for a limited run after a hugely successful Sydney season.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the plot revolves around Billy, a motherless British boy who begins taking ballet lessons, which is polar opposite to his coal miner father and brother’s working class, union fighting beliefs. His ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, recognises Billy’s potential, and suggests he audition for the Royal Ballet School in London.

The story of his personal struggle and fulfilment are balanced against a counter story of family and community strife caused by the 1984-85 UK miners’ strike and many police riots that occurred in County Durham, North East England.

The boys who have been chosen to play this iconic, extraordinary and inspiring role will forever be stamped into history after being cast following extensive auditions and intensive rehearsals.

For this evening’s premiere we saw the extremely talented Wade Neilsen play Billy. For a young man making his professional debut, he showed tremendous maturity and determination in his delivery and his dancing technique and abilities were outstanding.

The iconic scenes of ‘Angry Dance’ and ‘Electricity’ were absolute standouts, not just for Neilsen’s dancing, but the incredible sets by Ian MacNeil, sound by Paul Arditti and lighting design by Rick Fisher were mind-blowing.

Kudos to the Australian creative team for bringing this vision to life.

Hamish Monger played the fabulous role of Billy’s long standing, supportive best friend Michael. This part requires the young actor to throw away any inhibitions and really enjoy the character. Monger did this and had the audience eating out of his hand!

Lisa Sontag as the brassy, gritty but secretly loving and generous ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson was a stroke of genius, as with all the casting, as Sontag’s portrayal of the unfulfilled toughie is spot on. Her rendition of ‘Shine’ is captivating and entertaining.

The cheeky, outspoken daughter of Mrs Wilkinson, Debbie was played by Chanel Charles, another young triple threat making her professional debut.

Justin Smith as Dad/Jackie Elliot is the archetypal, Northern English working class man; he really nailed the gruffness and anger, and demonstrated the deep conflict faced with raising two very different sons.

Drew Livingston is equally menacing and passionate as bully big brother Tony, and Vivien Davies plays Grandma to a tee, taking home raucous laughter with ‘Grandma’s Song’

Providing additional light entertainment and great to see him back on the Festival Theatre stage is Robert Grubb as George.

Notable mention to Dean Vince as Mr Braithwaite, the long-suffering accompanist to Mrs Wilkinson, who steals the show in ‘Born to Boogie’

The extremely talented ensemble rounds out the cast of ballet girls, miners, and the community and are all completely and utterly invested in their character interpretations; blending comedy, drama and thrilling choreography which drew gasps and spontaneous applause from the opening night audience.

Billy Elliot is a story that shows the sacrifices one makes in order to harness one’s potential and express oneself against all odds.

It is a story that will continue to stand the test of time as it addresses issues of class, politics, lost dreams, cultural and societal expectations, gender and art.

An absolutely incredible, classic, iconic piece of musical theatre that one must see.

Go on! Express yourself, enjoy some time to shine and boogie and go and see this electric show!


Happy theatre travels…

Lia <3

This review also features on the Theatre Travels website –

Lia Loves
Lia Loves
Theatre. Dance. Culture. Events. Follow her adventures as Adelaide's premier theatre buff, arts contributor, educator and ambassador!

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