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date: 04 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In the years since 1954, the British musical has in various ways represented the changes that have occurred in social and political attitudes. The camp style of Salad Days and The Boy Friend encodes its critique of the Conservative government’s repressive policies of heteronormative conformity in the early 1950s by exploiting popular traditions of pantomime and music hall performance to valorize an emergent gay sensibility, while the theatre of Joan Littlewood at Stratford East utilized these same popular forms in the construction of a socialist theatre capable of articulating a working-class culture. These two recurrent conceptions of alternative political performance—the subversive queer/camp strategy and the Marxian aesthetic of alternative politics and culture—interact and are combined to startling effect in Billy Elliot, whose dialectical arguments around the relationship between class and gender/sexual orientation, popular and ‘high’ art provide a prime example of British theatre at its most socially aware.

Keywords: camp, Cold War, Billy Elliot, Blood Brothers, The Entertainer, the miners’ strike, Night after Night, Salad Days, sexual conformity, working-class culture

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