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British intelligence

In Ole Blighty they're mental for Billy Elliot, the Elton John musical based on the 2000 film. But will Broadway audiences get the thick accents, slang and 24-year-old foreign politics? With this cheat sheet, you won't miss a thing.

County Durham
[kow-nee dur-uhm] n
The tale is set in England's industrial North Country, where the historic occupation is mining. By 1921 more than a quarter of the population made a living working the "black seam," as Sting sang. Billy's family is made up of sooty, hard-bitten proles, which makes his dream of dancing ballet...incongruous. Mining is a hard, deadly profession, but one that inspires intense loyalty and pride.

"Oi"
[oy] interj
Slangy expression, equivalent of "hey" or "yo."

Margaret Thatcher
[mahr-guh-rit, -grit thach-er] n
Polarizing Conservative prime minister of England from 1979 to 1990. Under her watch, several of the country's industries were privatized, to the horror of socialists and even centrists. In the world of Billy Elliot, Thatcher is vilified for her plans to privatize coal mining, which threatens to close unprofitable operations. At the miners' traditional Christmas gala, they trot out an effigy of the Iron Lady for vicious mockery.

"Nowt"
[nout] n
North Country idiom derived from "naught," i.e., "nothing." Example: "There's nowt going on here but Elton John atoning for Lestat!"

The U.K. Miners' Strike of 1984--85
[mahy-ners straahyk] n
During 12 tense months, tens of thousands of miners—including Billy's father and brother—went on strike to protest Thatcher's plans to privatize coal. Organized by the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, they fought the government to retain ownership. Picketers were routed and beaten by police on horseback and in riot gear. Finally, the NUM voted to end the strike, with no new agreement. Both sides claimed victory, but in reality it was a terrible defeat for the NUM loyalists.

—David Cote

Billy Elliot starts previews Oct 1 and opens Nov 13 at the Imperial Theatre.

NEXT: The odds

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