UPDATED: West End Billy Elliot Votes in Favor of Keeping Margaret Thatcher Song; The Audience Also Makes No Changes
Theatergoers at London's Billy Elliot voted on the fate of the song about the late controversial leader; Peter Morgan's The Audience took a more straightforward approach.
UPDATED: As reported yesterday, Margaret Thatcher, who is depicted in a negative light in the West End shows Billy Elliot and The Audience, died of a stroke. It was unknown at the time whether the productions would keep the poor representations of the former British prime minister in the shows for forthcoming performances.
Per a report on Whatsonstage.com, audience members at the evening performance of Billy Elliot took a vote and near-unanimously decided to keep the song "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher," which paints a negative depiction of Thatcher, in the show.
Peter Morgan's play The Audience, which also speaks poorly of Thatcher, took a more direct approach in its decision. Playwright Morgan stepped out on stage and spoke to ticket buyers before the show began, recognized Thatcher's death with a brief tribute, and the performance proceeded, unchanged.
April 8, 2013 - Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away from a stroke on Monday, April 8. Nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her rigid style of leadership, Thatcher was the Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975-1990 and the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century, holding office from 1979-1990. She also maintains the legacy of being the only woman ever to have held that title.
Through her years of service, she managed to revitalize the British economy, but was also met with harsh criticism for sparking unemployment and social unrest. She remains an extremely divisive figure in Britain's political culture as well as its artistic culture, as West End theatergoers see on a nightly basis.
Two West End productions in particular — The Audience and Billy Elliot — include less-than-flattering portrayals of the prime minister, leaving the productions in difficult positions going forward, according to Whatsonstage.com. Playwright Peter Morgan's The Audience, which is centered around the weekly audiences Queen Elizabeth II (played by Helen Mirren) would provide to prime ministers, communicates the Queen's strong dislike of Margaret Thatcher (played by Haydn Gwynne). Morgan has decided not to make any script changes, but plans to make an announcement prior to this evening's performance acknowledging its content.
Elton John and Lee Hall's stage adaptation of the film Billy Elliot is faced with a similar challenge, as one of its big ensemble numbers, entitled "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher," criticizes her economic policy and includes lyrics that celebrate being "one day closer" to her death. A spokesperson for the production has stated that the show's producers will consult with the cast to determine how to proceed with the number this evening.