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Stephen Daldry’s award-winning 2000 film (written by Lee Hall), about a boy from a Geordie mining village who discovers a talent for ballet, later became a hit West End musical, with music by Sir Elton John.
The show, set against the events of the 1984-5 miners’ strike, has now been reimagined to great effect by director Nikolai Foster and choreographer Lucy Hind.
It’s fair to say that Sir Elton’s finest work lies elsewhere, but Mr Hall’s deeply humane writing carries the show, which is about loss and grief – for Billy, it’s for his dead mam; and for Easington’s men, their livelihood – and the importance of community.
Mr Hall’s naturalistic writing often utilises fruity (but very funny) language, but there’s little to really offend. The use of the word ‘poof’, for example, merely serves to place events in the time and macho world Billy lives in. His father, Jackie (Joe Caffrey) is angry when he finds out Billy has abandoned a boxing club for ballet lessons given by Mrs Wilkinson (Sally Ann Triplett on superb form), who recognises his talent. Eventually, love and acceptance overcome entrenched attitudes as Jackie – and his fellow miners – support Billy as he auditions for the Royal Ballet School.
There are catch-in-the-throat moments; when Mrs Wilkinson reads out the letter Billy’s mam wrote to him before she died (The Letter) and when the defeated miners go back to work behind their union banner (Once We Were Kings) stand out. Michael Taylor’s set (with lighting by Ben Cracknell) brilliantly utilises the Curve’s large stage, the moveable chainlink fences acting as both real and metaphorical barriers as the miners come into conflict with the police and Billy with his dad.
The pulsating band are under the direction of George Dyer, while among a large cast the young principals on press night – Jaden Shentall-Lee as Billy and Prem Masani as his best friend Michael – are terrific.