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Against Coalition Cuts, We Find Joy In Glee Club, NW1
Luke Turner , March 14th, 2011 08:28

Cripes & Jivens! on Saturday, Luke Turner wound up in the audience at a Glee musical. This was no West End schmaltzathon, mind, but the fruit of an invaluable community project of the kind currently facing the axe due to government cuts

This Saturday night I found myself in the unusual and perplexing position of being an audience member at a Glee musical. All the elements were there for an appalling evening of sentimental schlock - the Glee logo, hanging above the stage, the "ee" suggesting a hokey forced smile; the audience, made up of screaming children and their parents; the bright young cast. But this was a Glee musical with a difference. Rather than the perma-grinning American original, it was a one-off at the Shaw Theatre produced by youth outreach organisation called Let Me Play, and funded by Camden council's COO-L youth project. This Glee had a cast of 80 young people from the Borough in school years 9 to 11, all of whom qualified for participation by being in receipt of free school meals, under the care of the council, or had special needs and learning difficulties.

Admittedly, it is slightly frustrating to hear a very London mix of ethnicities singing in the same American accent, and you could easily make the argument that it's a shame that you have to rely on a television show to get young people engaged. Yet to do so would be churlish. The repertoire was the usual Glee mix of cover versions: Beyonce's 'Single Ladies', Michael Jackson's 'They Don't Really Care About Us' and 'The Way You Make Me Feel', Rhianna's 'Umbrella', Amy Winehouse's 'Valerie': all songs that are part of the everyday soundtrack to these young lives. The duo performing 'Billionaire' were on the money, rap and all; the girl who did 'Bust The Windows Out Your Car' was pure Missy aggression, shiny jacket and screwed up snarl. Despite the fact that some of the singing rendered these pop hits avant-garde, all through the chorus you could see individual stars. Before the finale, one justifiably proud father roared out to his child, and then a mother, and brothers and sisters, all raised the roof. To remain cynical in the face of such positivity would be impossible, and it was certainly more inspiring than any of the other amateur musical nights by disadvantaged (in a different way) kids that, in this line of business, one is forced to endure in the Barflys and other indie hovels up the road in the "musical heart" of Camden. It's like a de-fanged X Factor, the cruelty of Simon Cowell's talent show turned for positive ends.

This localised Glee musical was on one side of the divide in Britain in 2011. On one hand, our country is proudly multi-cultural, engaged, community-spirited, optimistic, family-orientated. On Saturday, all this was channelled through a publicly-funded outreach programme. The benefit to these 80 young people is not this one night of adulation onstage, but six months of hard work of rehearsals and physical activity, building their confidence and self-esteem. Who knows what wider social benefits this evening in a Kings Cross theatre might bring to the local area. But against them is ranged the Britain of the cynical, exploitative, multi-millionaire megalomaniac Cowell, who uses cruelty and the chimera of fame to captivate his victims and audience in ruthless pursuit of profit. And then there's the man whom Cowell urged Sun readers to vote for: David Cameron and his coalition government, who are currently putting to paid to schemes like this all over the country. Indeed, funding for this project was due to be cut at the end of the month. There has been a temporary reprieve, with funds now extended until the end of December, but after that, who knows? What is certain is that the lives of these children would be harder, greyer, bleaker without the efforts of organisations like C-OOL and Let Me Play. Elsewhere, the picture is certainly bleak. Hull is losing £511,000 from its musical youth project, Bedfordshire's Youth Music Service will end in 2012, and one estimate suggests that across the country youth services could see their budgets cut by as much as half billion pounds. It's surely inevitable that "inessential" arts and music projects bearing the brunt of the setbacks.

Giving his thanks on Saturday night, local Camden councillor Nasim Ali was clearly moved by the efforts of the young people of his borough. "Where are you now Simon Cowell?" he asked, praising the efforts of the young people and the charity that brought them there. Thankfully, men like Cowell, and his axe-swinging equivalents in the Coalition Government, are nowhere to be seen. For the sake of the young people of the Borough of Camden and those benefiting from similar projects across Great Britain, here's hoping it stays that way.