I love the score to the musical “Billy Elliot,” and I enjoyed seeing the show on Broadway. When I listen to the song “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,” a stray thought usually flits through my head: What will the show do on the day she dies?
The tune, sung by striking miners in the show whose livelihood is threatened by Margaret Thatcher’s politics, is extremely uncomplimentary of the prime minister. The lyrics call her a “Tory swine” and include this rousing chorus:
So merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher
May God’s love be with you
We all sing together in one breath
Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher
We all celebrate today
‘Cause it’s one day closer to your death.
Jonathan Freeland, writing in The Guardian, notes that “Billy Elliot” and the play “The Audience” — both playing on London’s West End – grant Thatcher a pivotal, if largely unsympathetic, role, whether seen or unseen:
At its crudest, the Thatcher ethos translated into the get-rich-quick, greed-is-good spirit of the 1980s, satirised by Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney creation. The Big Bang of City deregulation, the Tell Sid scramble for buying and selling shares, the sense that money is the highest value, wealth the greatest sign of worth – all these were hallmarks of the Thatcher era in its mid-80s pomp. Few would argue that they have not endured. On the contrary, consumerism and materialism have been the norm ever since, rising inequality the consistent trend as the rich soar ever further away from the rest.
So how did the West End’s “Billy Elliot” handle Thatcher’s death? Interestingly enough, the production put the question of whether “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” should be performed was put to a vote, the Daily Globe reports:
The audience at a West End production of Billy Elliot were asked to decide whether a song anticipating Margaret Thatcher’s death should be performed hours after she passed away.
The second act of the musical, which is set during the miners’ strike, begins with the song Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher which has lyrics that refer to celebrating the death of the former prime minister.
It was announced earlier that the show, staged at the Victoria Palace Theatre, would go ahead as planned but that no decision would be made on the song until just before the performance began at 7.30pm.
A Billy Elliot insider said: “It was taken seriously and debated and finally decided that it would be best to put it to a democratic vote to the audience.
“It was a near unanimous verdict to keep the song in and go ahead. It was an electric show.”
Only three audience members voted against the song being performed in the light of Baroness Thatcher’s death.