Handbagged review – a battle of wills between Thatcher and the Queen


How refreshing to be plunged into a political arena where the only things to worry about are a dogmatic rightwing leader, cabinet resignations and the influence of unelected advisors. “Freedom and democracy – they are things worth dying for,” says Margaret Thatcher in Moira Buffini’s funny and feisty play about the 11-year course of meetings between the prime minister and the Queen, and just because she’s talking about the IRA bombing of the Grand hotel in Brighton in 1984, it doesn’t mean that freedom and democracy are any less in contention now.

But despite the modern-day parallels, it is a relief to escape into a less circular political world. That is especially the case in a playful production by Fiona Buffini, the playwright’s sister, that keeps the issues serious and the staging fun.



‘Here’s to certainty’ … Handbagged. Photograph: Mark Douet

Handbagged describes a battle of wills between two powerful women who, due to temperament or profession, like to hide their feelings. In a play that tests the limits of intolerance and compassion, the joke is that the Queen, the very embodiment of a hierarchical society, is the empathetic one opposite a Thatcher who is humourless and doctrinaire.

As Thatcher young and old, Zoë Aldrich and Jan Goodman capture the prime minister’s thrusting neck movements and emphatic bass notes, while Melissa Collier and Louise Bangay create a queen who, despite her worldly wisdom, is never happier than when serving cakes. The double perspective of two actors in each role ushers in a wry, questioning spirit, made funnier still by Ashley Gerlach and Paul Mundell in the supporting roles. They make an excellent ensemble.

“Here’s to certainty,” is the monarch’s closing toast. And wouldn’t that be a nice thing?

At the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme, until 28 September.



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