Review: Billy Elliot at Sunderland Empire
"It shows the true desperation and moral decisions of a father trying to give his son the best chance in life"
There are few things in life that you can experience at a certain time and place that have cultural significance to a specific country or region. Take for example Iceland’s Northern Lights, or Mexico’s Day Of The Dead ceremony or, locally, seeing the story of Billy Elliot at Sunderland Empire, which is here for three week run as of last night.
The musical, which has just completed 11-years on London’s West End, has a score written by Elton John and is packed with emotion, so bring plenty of tissues.
Documenting the early 1980s miners’ strike against Maggie Thatcher’s government and the story of a young boy, Billy (played by a four different boys), as he discovers his talent for ballet.
There are two great but polarising scenes in the first half. The first is with Billy and his super sassy friend Michael, who take camp and cross-dressing to another level with over-sized clothing, glittery back drops and a dance number leaving you breathless just from watching them.
The other is a major contrast, with the song Solidarity which is reprised just before the end of the first half with its anthemic and repetitious chorus – “solidarity forever, all for one and one for all, solidarity for ever”.
That makes you realise the demand from the child actors in this intense and moving dance scene of the miners battling against the police, and Billy battling against his family’s ideals on what is right for him. This key scene is where the lighting really comes into play, with shadow work, and metaphorical boxes, showcasing how trapped Billy is in his life.
From there the second half shows the true reality of how Thatcher and her government screwed over the miners. With examples of the miners scrapping every penny (and 50p), they have to send Billy to his audition at The Royal Ballet. It shows the true desperation and moral decisions of a father trying to give his son the best chance in life and going against the masses and returning to “The Hole”.
The audition provides one of the iconic scenes from the musical, Electricity, where once again it shows the sheer demand the role as Billy has on the child actors, with a great contemporary solo dance number.
The show is a snapshot of one of the biggest moments in North East history, which is given lightness by a 12-year-old boy’s story of dance.
Billy Elliot is a highly emotive show, with light and darkness to it, and has grown men leaving the show with tears in their eyes. It’s something you don’t have to travel half way across the world to experience, something unique to a specific country or region like the Northern Lights, as this Northern Light is finally home and he’s called Billy.