He further cites the theatre group 7:84, where song, folk
dance, politics and gritty humour all came together in the proud
working class tradition. This work can be seen in that tradition,
and indeed must now stand as one its finest examples. This is powerful
working class history, dramatised and set to music with dance. Whose
side it is on is not - as far as we were concerned anyway - in any
The tensions within the family which the
show portrays predate the strike - they are not caused by it, although
they are added to by the violence, depravation and ultimate defeat.
One could draw a conclusion that the message suggests the only way
to escape this conflict is to escape the class, and with the help
of some kind, petty bourgeois join the middle class and get
out of here. That is not my interpretation. Billy goes to
that ballet school with his traditions and working class values
The stage presentation, performed through drama and dance, of the
police presence, the siege and occupation of the village, and the
community resistance is outstanding. We were hard pressed to stay
in our seats and not start battering the cops on stage, as the adrenaline
surged. As did the fear, when the line of riot-shielded, helmeted
cops advanced towards the audience banging their shields. I think
it probably was the closest most of that audience have ever got
to experiencing just how terrifying it is to be on the wrong side
of that tactic.
The young people in the show who swear as
much as the adults (I mean real swear words) are excellent. It is
a shocking but entirely accurate portrayal of working class kids.
They have three different Billys, Debbies
and Michaels for different performances throughout the
period the show runs - presumably because of their age and the time
and energy playing these parts requires. The young actors playing
the parts when we were there were delightful, comic and overwhelmingly
enthusiastic - all the young uns in this show clearly are
having a whale of a time and giving themselves heart and soul to
There are tragic, moving, heart-wrenching,
stirring sequences, powerfully presented with brilliant backdrops
and props, moving rapidly from scene to scene with utter simplicity.
The music is of course by Elton John, who
had been so moved by the original film version that when he saw
its premiere at Cannes I had to be helped up the aisle sobbing
- so much of the film had parallels to his own early childhood,
of his dreams of being able to artistically express himself. He
identifies with the young Billy going against the grain, sticking
to his vision, and in the process emerging from the closeting and
deadening impact which small village life and lack of horizons can
There is a conflict here, of course, and
guilt - as to whether it is even right to leave the culture and
tradition of the mine (and, more importantly, its collective endeavour
for social change and progress) and seek an individual way forward.
Few in the pit community actually resent those who do so - in fact
most take pride in athletes, scholars and artists of all kinds who
make their way in a different field, so long as they never hide
or betray the values and evidence of their roots. The village is
behind Billy in the end not because he is escaping from them, but
because he is representing them, in an arena and before an audience
where few had hitherto acknowledged their existence. Billy is ironically
more one of them in his achievement in ballet than perhaps
he would have been down the pit.
We do have one criticism of one scene - and
it was at once evident when we all three looked at each other at
the same time. It is the scene where the scab donates hundreds of
pounds to Billys efforts to get to the Royal Ballet audition.
This is to suggest that the scabs were somehow just lapsed members
of the community, that a generous gift would someone
demonstrate that they were OK after all; that Billys
endeavour was greater than the conflict between the strikers and
the blacklegs. Those are entirely erroneous implications.
We cannot understand the inclusion of this
scene, which seems to be someones afterthought, since it was
not in the original film version and jars sharply against the real
experience of the strike. Clearly it fails to recognise the depth
of utter hatred strikers feel for strikebreakers and the cheapness
of their surrender, the selling of a whole community, a whole value
system, and a struggle for our right to exist as a social force.
If the scabs had not sold out the way they did, all the miners could
have afforded to donate wads of notes - not just for this Billy,
but potentially for all the Billys who could follow him in this
or in other fields. One only needs look at the utter despair and
loss of hope prevalent in much of the youth of the former pit villages
today to see the evidence of that. It will be indescribably harder
in todays former pit communities for a Billy to emerge and
blossom than it was prior to or during that epoch battle.
Some have said they thought the film, and
therefore the play, ends indecisively. In truth so did the strike
in 85, and that is where this show leaves us. We struggled on, regrouped
and had another go, and then faced the final defeat over the period
of the following 10 years. That period is outside the scope of this
story, so we have no problem with the ending.