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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Billy Elliot musical and class politics


I visited London recently and went to see the musical Billy Elliot. I thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was entertaining, emotional, thought provoking and extremely relevant given the times we are in. Based on the film of the same name, this is the story of a boy who wants to be a ballet dancer, even though his father wants him to box. It is set in Northern England in the 1980s at a time of grave industrial unrest. Margaret Thatcher had all but declared war on the trade union movement. The main character Billy is the son of a striking coal miner.

The musical excellently captures the hardship and difficulties faced by the miners. Whole communities were demonised and divide and conquer tactics were used to pit worker against worker. I am not going to get into the rights and wrongs of the strike only to say that history never fails to repeat itself.

As unemployment again reaches record levels both in Ireland and the UK it is ordinary people who suffer most. The wealthy are protected and workers who attempt to fight back and take a stand are demonised. We all know the mantra – sure aren’t you lucky you have a job. I genuinely believe that most politicians have no understanding of what it is like to live in poverty, to survive on social welfare or on low pay. The sad reality is that it is often children who suffer most. There are many Billy Elliots’ out there, dreaming of better things as the system works against them. The musical portrays class politics in a very vivid way and its portrayal of the trials and tribulations of a working class family from the North of England are every bit as relevant as the time in which they were set.

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