Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


Billy Elliot

Review by Paul Towers, 20/7/22

Billy Elliot  The Musical

Music by Elton John, book & lyrics by Lee Hall

Directed by Nikolai Foster, choreographed by Lucy Hind

A Made at Curve production

At Curve til Saturday 20th August 2022

“Nikolai Foster has taken an iconic favourite and given it a new perspective”

Way back in 2000 the original film of Billy Elliot (originally to be called The Dancer) took the Cannes Film Festival by storm and a musical adaptation was started work on. It was 2005 before it opened in London’s West End and that has been the definitive stage version ever since despite productions notably in Australia and the US. This is the first time a director (Nikolai Foster) has been given free reign to adapt the script and staging. The main differences seem to be the lack of tap dancing and quite a bit more laughter.

Set against the 1984 miners’ strike Billy (an astonishingly talented Jaden Shentall-Lee at tonight’s Press Night) is an orphaned 11 year old being brought up by a macho miner father (Joe Caffrey). His only real female role model is his aged grandmother (Rachel Izen) who shows him how dance helped her survive her abusive late husband. For Billy this is an escape route from the toxic masculine world of his home life. But trying to break free from the future he seems to have mapped out for him needs determination and strength. With the help of the formidable Mrs Wilkinson (Sally Ann Triplett) he discovers the wonderful world of ballet. Spurred on by his best friend Michael (Prem Masani) Billy embraces his differentness.

Having been trusted by the original creators to alter the show Foster has refocussed the story more on Billy. That said the extreme division the strike caused in communities not far from our city are still felt today which makes this revival especially pertinent especially with similar cracks today caused by Brexit and other social issues.

The set, designed by Michael Taylor is suitably industrial with gantries and chain fences as backdrops. Central to the story is the Elliot house, an intriguing 3 story edifice of kitchen bedroom and bathroom up and down which poor Billy has to climb regularly. Much use is made of the many ways to exit and enter the stage in Curve’s main house and crowds of striking miners and police frequently flooded  down the aisles.

Lighting designer Ben Cracknell has ignored the energy crisis and taken full advantage of Curve’s extensive lighting rig to provide atmosphere.

Musical director George Dyer has his 7 piece band ensconced in the eerie of the scaffolding at the back of the stage thus providing a full soundtrack to the action before them.

With a huge cast including local dancers and a team of four Billys this is a full blooded new production which, 40 years after the original action, still resonates across the Midlands and the North. Nikolai Foster has taken an iconic favourite and given it a new perspective.

A very welcome surprise during this unexpected heatwave was a free bottle of water left on every seat courtesy of Curve’s management. Much appreciated by this sweating hack!

Billy Elliot The Musical runs at Curve until Saturday 20th August (not the 14th as originally scheduled)



Riot Act


Review by Paul Towers, 7/7/22

Riot Act  by Alexis Gregory

Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair

Produced by Alexis Gregory & Emmerson Ward Productions

At Curve 7 July 2022 and then touring

“How Gay history has evolved”

Fifty three years ago two momentous things happened. Judy Garland died and the Stonewall Riots happened. The two events are forever intertwined in gay history.

Riot Act is a theatrical triptych of how this moment in history has coloured gay civil rights to this day.

Michael is a New York drag queen who, at the age of 17, was actually at the Stonewall Riot. Too young to be in the thick of it he circled the periphery helping the injured. This meant he was able to see how everything unfolded, the police brutality, the Mafia intervention and how the fight-back on that night became the Gay Liberation movement.

Alexis’ next character, Lavinia, is a radical drag artist, a member of the infamous Bloo Lips troop in the 70’s challenging gender politics long before the current woke brigade.

His third character, Paul, is a prominent AIDS activist, campaigning to this day for the very best medical treatment and awareness. His experiences of how AIDS patients were treated is horrific.

All three of these characters are real people, interviewed by Gregory and their lives distilled into funny, sad and sometimes unbearable stories that we should all listen to lest the same mistakes are made again.

Alexis Gregory is not only an amazing actor but his writing skills are astonishing. Each character is clearly defined as we enter their world.

This is theatre that should be compulsory viewing for every young gay stepping out into the world for the first time. They should be learning from the elder gays that went before them