Last night, the producers of Billy Elliot the Musical had a problem.
Act 2 of the show opens with a song about Margaret Thatcher and the characters’ hatred of her, including lyrics like, “We all celebrate today/ ‘Cause it’s one day closer to your death”. I bet the news of her passing prompted a few phone calls at Working Title…
In today’s Twitter engaged society, a witch hunt can so easily snowball to full on revolt. One story on the Daily Mail or on its widely read website could have led to a social networking fuelled embargo of purchasing tickets, and I imagine a considerable part of the box office demographic hails from some of the largely Conservative home counties.
Just as we should respect the human element of anyone’s passing we should not white-wash history because someone has died
The show came up with a neatly democratic solution, that neatly avoided such armageddon. The company took to the stage before the start of the evening’s performance, and put to audience vote whether or not to include the Act 2 opening number, explaining in detail the song’s content and historical context. The audience voted overwhelmingly for its inclusion.
Its appropriate democracy was the order of the day. Just as we should respect the human element of anyone’s passing we should not white-wash history because someone has died.
Facebook is flooded with unguarded attacks of course, but then also many condemnations that no criticsm should be posted on the day of her death. But how long do those people think such condemnations should last? Forever? When is too soon?
In relation to Billy Elliot specifically, it is also not necessarily the writers expressing their own naked political beliefs, but in fact (whether they do in fact mirror or not) it is the characters who will Thatcher to die, so extreme is their hatred of the (now historical) figure. That is an accurate historical portrayal – the miners had those passionate extreme views whether you agree with their politics of their time, or the methods they undertook.
Interestingly, Peter Morgan also took to the stage at The Audience at the Gielgud to preface his play (which features the character of Maggie Thatcher on stage) with a speech that marked the moment with respect, though changed no content of the play itself.
I for one don’t like to wade into these things online. I just showed my own mark of respect by stealing the milk from our office fridge and quietly throwing it away. In memoriam.