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Billy Elliot audience votes to keep Margaret Thatcher song in show

By • West End

The two current West End productions that include depictions of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - The Audience and Billy Elliot, both, coincidentally directed by Stephen Daldry - handled her passing yesterday in very different ways at their performances last night (See Yesterday’s News).

As previously reported, the producers of Billy Elliot, Elton John and Lee Hall’s multi award-winning screen-to-stage musical set during the miners’ strikes of the 1980s, waited to consult with the cast once they arrived at the Victoria Palace pre-performance. And the company decided to put to an audience vote whether or not to include the second-act opening number, “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher”, which is highly critical of Thatcher and her government and includes the refrain “We all celebrate today/ 'Cause it's one day closer to your death”, performed against a large Spitting Image-style inflatable version of the Iron Lady. 

The result at the 1500-seat theatre was near-unanimous to go ahead with the song as usual, bar three audience members who voted to cut it. In a statement, Stephen Daldry explained: “Following yesterday's announcement about the passing of Baroness Thatcher, and after much discussion amongst the company of Billy Elliot The Musical, it was decided to open up the decision whether to perform ‘Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher’ to the audience who attended the show last night. After an explanation of the song's content and historical context from the stage, the audience voted overwhelmingly for its inclusion in the second act.”

Billy Elliot Production Images

No changes were made to the production of Peter Morgan's sell-out play The Audience either. Prior to the performance, however, Morgan introduced himself to the audience at the Gielgud Theatre, thanked them for coming and, before wishing them a fantastic evening, said: “Today one of the great figures of post-war British political life and the longest-serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century, and therefore the participant of the greatest number of the audiences with the queen, died. I just wanted to mark that occasion this evening with all of you.”

The Audience takes its title from the Queen’s weekly private meeting with her serving Prime Minister, called “the audience”. In the play, Helen Mirren’s Queen demonstrates her dislike of Thatcher, played by Haydn Gwynne, and in particular, her refusal to issue sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa.

** DID MARGARET THATCHER, IN THE END, HAVE A POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THEATRE? WATCH OUT LATER TODAY FOR OUR “BIG DEBATE” POLL ON THE SUBJECT. IN THE MEANTIME, YOU CAN POST YOUR COMMENTS BELOW, ON THE WHATSONSTAGE.COM DISCUSSION FORUM OR EMAIL US. **


LYRICS TO MERRY CHRISTMAS, MAGGIE THATCHER

Can you hear it in the distance
Can you sense it far away
Is it old Rudolph the reindeer
Is it Santa on his sleigh
It's heading up to Easington
It's coming down the Tyne
Oh it's bloody Maggie Thatcher
And Michael Heseltine

(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

They've come to raid your stockings
And to steal your Christmas pud
But don't be too downhearted
It's all for your own good
The economic infrastructure
Must be swept away
To make way for business parks
And lower rates of pay

(Chorus)

And they've brought their fascist boot boys
And they've brought the boys in blue
And the whole Trade Union Congress
Will be at the party too
And they'll all hold hands together
All standing in a line
'Cause they're privatising Santa
This merry Christmas time

(Chorus 2x)

Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Heseltine
You're a tosser, you're a tosser
And you're just a Tory Swine


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