Acclaimed: boy from Hull bringing Billy Elliot to life

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The Independent Culture

He was one of three child actors who beat off the challenge of 3,000 other hopefuls to be picked for the title role in a stage musical of the film Billy Elliot.

He was one of three child actors who beat off the challenge of 3,000 other hopefuls to be picked for the title role in a stage musical of the film Billy Elliot.

And Liam Mower, 12, the youngest of the three and one-time disco dancing champion, had the added pressure of playing the lead on opening night at the Victoria Palace in London this week.

Some might have forecast a nervous performance, but the first-night write-ups of the £5m adaptation were a clean sweep of glittering reviews which waxed lyrical about Mower's superb dancing skills and the emotional depth of his acting.

The musical was tightly based on the original British film, directed by Stephen Daldry, which won hearts, Oscar nominations and earned more than £100m at the box office in 2001. Like the film, it follows Billy's ambition to win over his father and pursue his love of ballet, against a backdrop of the 1984 miners' strike.

Thousands of young actors and dancers attended nationwide auditions in a bid to be chosen by Daldry for the role of the 11-year-old Easington miner's son who overcomes hardships and his father's misgivings to make it to the Royal Ballet School. But it was Mower, as well as George Maguire, 13, and James Lomas, 14, who were taken on to play the role in rotation.

Mower comes from a modest background in Hull, where his mother, Joanne, works in a sandwich shop, and his father, Paul, is a pipe-fitter.

"When I was little," he said, "I was always dancing around the house. My mum thought dancing was for girls, but I started my first dance school doing disco, rock 'n' roll, ballroom and Latin - and I became a champion at disco. I was encouraged by my mum's friend to join the Northern Theatre Company."

He had classes to help improve his skills in tap, street, acrobatics and singing, in addition to training at the Billy Elliot School in Leeds.

"My dance teacher, Julie, introduced me to ballet, and that's when everything changed," he said. "Ballet has become my favourite type of dance."

He won a scholarship at the Royal Ballet's White Lodge School in Richmond, London, while he was auditioning for Billy Elliot last year, despite having started ballet only two years beforehand. He left his comprehensive school in Hull to move there as a boarder last autumn. His parents pay £250 towards the annual £28,000 fees.

Critics' verdict

"Mower is amazingly energised, mastering lengthy classical routines then moving into dramatic scenes."

Sheridan Morley, Daily Express

"There's a terrific sequence where Billy freaks out in a dance of angular, floor-sweeping frustration."

Paul Taylor, The Independent

"[Mower's] dancing is sensational. One leaves this triumphant production in a mist of tears and joy."

Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

"Liam Mower performs not just with heroic dedication but also a strange seriousness."

Michael Billington, The Guardian

"Mower dazzles in a sequence of dance numbers."

Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard

"Liam Mower will surely become the biggest child star since Mark Lester played Oliver Twist."

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail