Review: Handbagged

Susie Blake as Queen Elizabeth
Susie Blake as Queen Elizabeth
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It’s safe to say the Queen and Margaret Thatcher never liked each other much.

* * *

King’s Theatre

Peers in age and respective heads of state and government, perhaps. Nevertheless, they were – at least according to writer Moira Buffini – poles apart on the issues of the day during the Iron Lady’s reign.

Herein lies the premise of Tricycle Theatre’s face-off between Maj (Q) and Maggie (T) during weekly imagined conversations held in Buckingham Palace.

Set against the backdrop of a steel-framed Union flag, this comedy does away with the fourth wall, as the characters lecture the audience on the pair’s differing attitudes towards the Falklands War, the Miners’ Strike, Apartheid and the like.

When jokes about destroying whole communities are met with hearty laughter, the comedy feels misdirected. More reassuringly, nobody clapped when ‘Thatcher’ first strode on to the stage (chillingly, her character received a round of applause on opening night).

What’s truly odd, however, is that both are humanised here, Her Majesty portrayed as a socialist, a liberal antidote to Thatcher’s uncompromising, right-wing domineering.

But if one of each wasn’t enough, another two actors double-up as younger versions of Q (Liz) and M (Mags), thus maintaining the snappy pace over 125 minutes.

Additional actors play out the many political figures of the period meanwhile – all executed in Spitting Image fashion – and in one instance, two of them argue over who should be Neil Kinnock. Who cares?

That said, focusing on Thatcher’s attitude towards arts funding (or lack thereof) was an open goal too easy for the company to pass up.

If it wasn’t for such eerily accurate portrayals, this could have been a right dud. Aptly, Susie Blake is in majestic form, and the only actor you actively wait to hear speak. Close your eyes, however, and Kate Fahy could be the Iron Lady herself. That’s how good both are.

At the end, a few people cheered while others gave a standing ovation. Whether it was for the actors or the real-life characters, it’s hard to say.

Run ends Saturday