Why we’re rooting for BILLY ELLIOT
BILLY ELLIOT, the musical is set in northeastern England during a time known as The Coal Miners Strike period of 1984-1985. On a more intimate level, the story portrays the effects of this strike period on communities and personal households. The magnitude of the strikes challenge survival, relationships, and dreams of even the youngest generation. Each circumstance the characters go through test their hope as the economy that once sustained them is being uprooted. I believe the more you know about the coal mining communities, the more you’ll realize the importance Billy plays as a catalyst in the story. To me, he shows everyone that there is more to life beyond what’s been handed to you- that sometimes you have to go against all odds for the dreams that you see. Lyric’s dramaturg Colby has researched historical information that the community reflects; read some of his awesome insight below.
During the 1980’s, subsidies sustaining activity in the English coal mines began to decrease. The first few initial strikes started in 1981 and would go on to spur some more strikes around this time. Meanwhile, the Conservative Government decided that there was no possible way to keep breathing life into an industry that was soon to be almost completely scaled back in the UK. While some degree of consistency in coal mining lasted for about sixty years afterward, the official strike that would serve as the beginning of the end to the industry in the UK began on March 6th, 1984.
For centuries, coal mines in the United Kingdom provided both a source of income for the worker, and a source of energy for the nation. Soon, sources of more effective energy through the means of natural gas and even oil would be discovered as better and less expensive alternatives to coal. Importing coal from other countries was becoming much cheaper than extracting coal from beneath Britain itself. This fact supported the 1977 Ridley Plan, which aimed to reduce Britain’s reliance on coal power overall so as to end the coal mining industry in the UK, and to slowly convert from coal as an energy source to gas and oil.
We know the strikes happened, but it is important to understand the effects of the strikes. Many villages and towns had sprung up throughout the mid-twentieth century around these mines. Whole economies centered on the success and upkeep of them. Because of this, many families depended on the continuation of coal mining to survive. When the strikes began, income for thousands of families stopped almost completely. The Elliots are only one example of such a family.
Every household was falling from the same economic problem, but Billy shows them with his determination how to rise above.
Macintyre, Donald. How the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 Changed Britain for Ever. New Statesman, 16 June 2014. Web. 17 July 2015.
Material in this blog gathered by BILLY ELLIOT Dramaturg Colby Frederick.