Review, ‘Billy Elliot’ – That Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre

21 April 2024

This review was originally published on the CanTheatreWatcher blog .

“Billy Elliot: The Musical” poses a challenge to most musical companies. First you need a lead boy who’s around 13 who is a highly capable dancer, singer and actor. Then you need another one to balance the pressure of pulling the performance off nightly. Surrounded by a cast playing out the drama of the 84-85 UK miners strike, he has to play out the story of a boy discovering his true passion for dance against the pressures of a family in crisis, as his father deals with his bereavement about both his wife and his career, his brother invests in a political struggle with the odds loaded against him, his grandmother drifts into dementia and the world around him erupts into chaos. Mitchell Clement has the skill and ability to pull this off with aplomb, dancing impeccably but also giving us a Billy who is anxious, hopeful, connected and strong. 

Surrounding him are a range of strong performers, from Alice Ferguson, touching and glorious in her solo “Grandma’s song”, to Joe Dinn shifting from intimidating dad to the lost figure in “Deep in the Ground” and the father who realises what he needs to do for his boy. Janie Lawson enjoys the chance to showbiz it up and delights from her introductory “Shine” to her ongoing unwavering support of Billy, showing real heart throughout. Jo Zaharias’s appearances as Mum are desperately cherished as moments of warmth. Blake Wilkins has a cheeky glee and charm as Billy’s irreverent friend Michael, playing gleefully with infectious enthusiasm.

Cate Clelland’s set as a miner’s union hall gives us a strong sense of place and reality, and adapts well to the multiple alternate locations it requires. Jacob Aquilina’s lighting is precise and skilled. The music is well presented by directors Katrina Tang and Caleb Campbell, mixing the sound of Miner’s choruses, the gentle ballads, the showbizzy dance moments and the rageful clatterings during “Angry Dance”.

This is a strong production of a heartfelt, powerful musical and well worth the catching.

Simon Tolhurst