Margaret Thatcher's theatrical legacy: Five shows The Iron Lady inspired
As part of our recent poll following the death of Margaret Thatcher, we asked readers 'Which plays or musicals inspired by Thatcherism are most likely to stand the test of time?'. Five productions were mentioned more than any others - four of them created during Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister, and one based on the 1984/85 miners' strike.The company of Billy Elliot
Gaining more votes than any other show, this musical based on the 2000 Brit flick starring Jamie Bell and Julie Walters follows an 11-year-old County Durham boy's dream to study at the Royal Ballet School, despite his father's wishes and the economic hardships of the 1980s miners' strike. The multi award-winning musical has a score by Elton John and lyrics and book by Lee Hall, who wrote the screenplay. It features songs such as "Electricity", "Solidarity" and "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher", which audiences voted to keep in the show the night after the former PM died. The current cast includes Gillian Bevan as Mrs Wilkinson and Ann Emery and Grandma, returning to the role that she originated. It's been running at the Victoria Palace Theatre since 2005.
The 2011 revival of Top Girls
The second most cited show was Caryl Churchill's seminal 1982 work centring on powerful women in Thatcher's Britain. The play, which sees hard-nosed businesswoman Marlene host a dinner party to celebrate her promotion to managing director of the Top Girls Employment Agency with a guest list including powerful women from myth and history, was recently revived by its original Royal Court director Max Stafford-Clark in a 2011 production at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which subsequently transferred to Trafalgar Studios. In a five star review Whatsonstage.com chief critic Michael Coveney wrote that it "remains one of the canonical plays of the late 20th century, performed all over the world and long established as a set text in drama schools and universities."
The company of Phantom of the Opera
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals were famously used by Margaret Thatcher as examples of successful, unsubsidised 80s culture, and Phantom is the most successful of them all. The show, which premiered in the West End in 1984, is based on Gaston Leroux's novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra and centres on the relationship between a beautiful soprano and a mysterious disfigured composer. To date it has grossed over $5.5 billion worldwide, ranking it as the most successful show of all time. As Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington said recently: "It is no accident that Thatcher seized on Lloyd Webber as a symbol of what theatre should be. He embodied everything of which she approved: entreprenuerial skill, a world-famous brand-name, the ability to make money."
The company of Les Miserables
Another great West End musical titan of the 80s that is still running today, adapted from Victor Hugo's epic novel, was also cited by readers as an enduring symbol of Thatcher's Britain. Which is perhaps ironic, considering that Les Mis was staged (in 1985) by the publicly-funded Royal Shakespeare Company. But it showed that esteemed classical directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, who had previously collaborated on an epic adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, could also stage a mainstream blockbuster aimed at the mass market, paving the way for Nicholas Hytner's current work at the National. And its themes are pertinent too. One of our voters wrote: "While I wholeheartedly believe Les Mis would have been a success without Maggie Thatcher, surely there is no better show that allows for the expression of the feelings of the time. The idea that things should be changed - that a people can rise - surely Thatcherism inspired the sort of feelings that Les Mis captures within the public, and made it the roaring success it was in the beginning."
The company of Blood Brothers (West End 2011)
Completing the top five most mentioned productions 'inspired by Thatcherism are most likely to stand the test of time' is Willy Russell's 1983 musical about living on the 'never never' in Liverpool. The third-longest running production in West End history, it tells the story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate and a mother's haunting secret. Although not set entirely during the Thatcher period, one of the twins, Mickey, loses his job in the climate of privatisation in the early 1980s which ultimately causes his downfall. Blood Brothers may have recently finished its 24-year run in the West End, but Russell revealed in a recent interview that the show is set for an intriguing new life: "The South African singer David Kramer asked me to relocate the musical in the Cape coloured community, and I agreed. The brothers will be black, and I am going to allow some of the community's rhythm to creep into the score. It will be shown next year in South Africa and I am very excited."