There are all kinds of problems to be surmounted in adapting Billy Elliot into a stage musical. But Stephen Daldry's exhilarating production has some brilliant solutions up its fluffy pink tutu.
Take the clash between the highly personal, success-bound goal of Billy - the miner's son with his sights set on the Royal Ballet School - and the doomed communal values of the miners struggling to keep the pits open in the strike of 1984. Rather than trade in evasions, this funny, touching and shamelessly enjoyable staging highlights the painful and unresolvable conflicts of feeling and ideology that arise.
There's a terrific sequence where Billy - enchantingly performed by twelve year old Liam Mower on opening night - freaks out in a dance of angular, floor-sweeping frustration. He hurls himself repeatedly against the riot shields of the rhythmically baton-thumping police, like someone trapped and going mad in a treacherous no-man's-land.
In the movie, the father has to sell the dead mother's jewellery to pay for Billy to go back down to London for his audition. Here, he's able to go because the money raised by the strikers is lavishly augmented by a donation from one of the scabs. It means that the boy's triumph in being accepted has a constant undertow of sadness.
"We can't all be dancers," exclaims his older brother bitterly when the news of his success coincides with the calling off of the strike. This uncomfortable friction is honestly communicated right to the end.
Peter Darling's witty and constantly inventive choreography has the answers to another tricky difficulty. There's an uplifting scene where the whole world seems to turn into a dance class. With the police and the miners breaking into the unconscious patterns of Northumbrian folk dance and the children surreally swapping round the different types of helmet, this elaborate routine has the humane effect of showing how these two conflicting groups of men share the same working class culture.
In a stage musical it's as natural to dance as it is to lose your trousers in a farce. But that convention could have caused snags here in a story about the exceptional nature of Billy. This particular musical, with a serviceable score by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, expertly clears such hurdles.
The show is often terribly funny. Ryan Longbottom, who plays Michael, Billy's cross-dressing gay friend, is the kind of kid who would have Ethel Merman cowering under the furniture. Showbiz? This no-nonsense razzmatazz merchant could eat the whole of it for breakfast. Before you can say Danny La Rue, he has Billy in a dress and tap-dancing with a group of fantasy frocks. Their song is dedicated to "individuality" - a quality which is, in more senses than one, unsettling in Daldry's warm, generous and deeply talented production.Reuse content