Written by Moira Buffini
★★★ (out of five)
Until November 16
IF YOU have ever wondered just what went on behind the palace doors during those weekly meetings between Thatcher and the Queen, the Tricycle Theatre has a hilarious version of events for you.
From the Prime Minister’s scone snubbing, to Liz’s inability to squeeze any ‘gossip’ from her most powerful subject, Moira Buffini’s take on the 11-year relationship offers a playful yet insightful tone in Handbagged, which premiered at the Kilburn venue this month.
The second-generation Irish writer — whose screenplays include this year’s vampire thriller Byzantium, starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by Neil Jordan — offers up the enforced bond between the country’s two most powerful women through the eyes of its protagonists in both their early and later years.
The fast-paced production reveals the older Queen and Thatcher, the accomplished and superbly cast Marion Bailey and Stella Gonet, as they watch over their younger selves, annotating the scenes where necessary for the audience.
Equally entertaining and well-positioned are Claire Holman as the young Liz, as she attempts fruitlessly to find common ground with her first female Prime Minister, and Fenella Woolgar as Mags, determined to be seen as more than a grocer’s daughter and demanding we power through the whole performance without interval, claiming: “There isn’t time.”
Thankfully HRH is having none of that, extolling the virtues of “a good interval” and the time to take tea or a trip to the ladies.
The four actors are accompanied by a cavalcade of required characters of course, from Neil Kinnock to Dennis Thatcher, played with energy by young Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle, of recent Hollyoaks fame. The pair are responsible for a particularly amusing scene when they embark on a ‘Neil Kinnock-off’ while fighting over whose role it is to play.
But for all the hilarity — the Queen battling to assume authority over Thatcher by ‘bringing her a chair’ is another highlight — there is also much poignancy.
Powerful messages are delivered throughout the production, providing insight into Buffini’s personal recollection of Thatcher’s reign.
The plight of the miners and the Queen’s apparent difficulty to reconcile it is up there among the more controversial, as the scribe consistently refuses to ‘gloss over’ Thatcher’s more turbulent periods.
Hunger strikes, the North of Ireland and the Poll Tax riots all feature among the more contentious issues Buffini refuses to ignore.
That, coupled with the inspired direction of the Tricycle’s Indhu Rubasingham, brings true grit to this production, which is otherwise a somewhat nostalgic and amusing look back at the human relationship between two powerful women forced to face one another every Tuesday.
Handbagged runs at the Tricycle Theatre until November 16.