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Canberra Today 3°/6° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Billy packs a punch physically and emotionally

Charlie Murphy, left, as Michael and Fergus Paterson, as Billy, perform Expressing Yourself in Billy Elliot. Photo: Janelle McMenamin

Musical Theatre / Billy Elliot. At the Q, Queanbeyan until May 5. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

This production of the musical Billy Elliot certainly packs a punch physically and emotionally.

Based on the 2000 film of the same name, the Elton John/Lee Hall musical revolves around a motherless boy who begins taking ballet lessons in a British mining town during the 1984-85 UK miner’s strike in north-east England’s County Durham.

Against fierce opposition from his father and older brother, both of whom are involved in the union battle for better wages and conditions for coal miners, Billy finds a champion for his ambitions in his dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, who eventually convinces his father to let him audition for the Royal Ballet. 

Confidently directed by Jarrad West and choreographed by Michelle Heine, this musical makes huge demands on the young actor playing Billy Elliot. He is required to depict Billy’s story from novice dancer to one exhibiting enough talent to be accepted into the Royal Ballet School. He’s also required to sing well and act convincingly.

On opening night this role was played by Fergus Paterson, whose performance in this critical role constantly drew cheers from the audience.

Paterson breezed through Heine’s cleverly staged production numbers, Shine, Born to Boogie and the extraordinary Angry Dance. He delighted in the effervescent duet Expressing Yourself partnered by his friend Michael, this role performed with considerable panache by Charlie Murphy. 

Paterson astonished in the spectacular Swan Lake Dream Ballet, which he shared with accomplished ballet dancer Jordan Dwight, and broke hearts with his rendition of The Letter with mum, Jo Zaharias. 

The roles of Billy and Michael are shared in later performances with Mitchell Clement and Blake Wilkins, so you may have to see this show twice. However, that should be no hardship because this production also contains a surfeit of excellent performances. 

Among them Janie Lawson in a star performance as the hard-bitten dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson. Her opening number Shine is one of the many highpoints of this show.

Joe Dinn brings impressive depth to his portrayal as Billy’s rough miner father, Jackie Elliot. Similarly Lachlan Elderton gives a powerful performance as Billy’s strong-willed brother Tony Elliot.

Completing the Elliot family, Alice Ferguson delights as Grandma whose antics eventually draw the family together.

Among the hard-working ensemble, Tim Maher successfully mined his role as a duplicitous miner for comic opportunities, as did James Tolhurst-Close as Mrs Wilkinson’s long-suffering repetiteur, Mr Braithwaite. Zahra Zulkapli was delightfully precocious as Billy’s dance class friend, Debbie.

Cate Clelland has designed a spectacular setting that takes up every centimetre of the Q’s stage. Draped with union banners it represents the Miners Union Hall in which Mrs Wilkinson also conducts her dance classes. 

Although this multi-purpose setting occasionally leads to confusion as to where the action is taking place, particularly for the domestic scenes involving the Elliot family, clever pop-outs and careful lighting allows an attentive audience to follow the storyline. 

Caleb Campbell and Katrina Tang share the musical director responsibilities as well as participating in the excellent tight musical ensemble, which accompanies the show. 

Unfortunately, the sound design on opening night oscillated between deafening and too low. Hopefully, this blemish will be corrected so that Free Rain Theatre’s excellent production can be enjoyed to the fullest.


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