Handbagged at the New Vic – Theatre Review

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Handbagged - New Vic Theatre - Photo by-Mark Douet

Who wouldn’t have wanted to have been a fly on the wall to listen to what was said during the weekly meetings between Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990?

Well, if you go along to the New Vic theatre between now and September 28th you will get a chance to see what playwright Moira Buffini thinks may have been the conversations between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher while at the same time getting a potted political history of the UK during what were pretty tumultuous and not always pleasant years. And all in the form of a comedy written with real bite.

In fact on stage there are two versions of both the Queen and Mrs Thatcher, an older version of each (Louise Bangay and Jan Goodman) who are able to comment on the conversations between their younger selves (Melissa Collier and Zoe Aldrich). We get the distinct impression from these imagined conversations that things were not always cordial between the two most famous women in Britain, if not the world.  The Queen tries to support her view of Great Britain and the Commonwealth working together against a Thatcherite wish to change Britain into a country that stands on it’s own two feet and is a bastion against socialism, with help, of course from Ronald Reagan (Paul Mundell).

Mundell also shines as Denis Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, Gerry Adams,  a butler, Geoffrey Howe, John Major and briefly as Prince Philip. He is well supported by Ashley Gerlach who also has multi parts, playing another flunky of the Queen, Kenneth Kaunda, Neil Kinnock, Ken Clarke, Nancy Reagan and Arthur Scargill amongst others.

As you may be able to tell we have on stage almost a Who’s Who of 1980’s politicians and for those who may be too young to remember that period, Ashley Gerlach and Paul Mundell do take time out from time to time to explain the Lancaster House agreement, the Poll Tax riots and why Ronald Reagan didn’t offer full support to the Falklands Campaign.

But the real stars of the show of course are the Queen and Thatcher and their parts are extremely well written by Moira Buffini. She brings out the real concern of the Queen about her Commonwealth and the determination of Thatcher to leave her mark on history. Neither of these women were given to public displays of emotion and nobody knows what was really said in these meetings.

This gives Buffini the license to be extremely funny and to use her imagination to the extreme. While we are given a rapid ride through the eighties to Thatcher’s demise in 1990 we never feel like the play is simply a history lesson. In fact for me the funniest part of the evening was seeing Margaret Thatcher dancing with the president of Zambia whilst on her first overseas trip to a Commonwealth  leaders conference.

“ Handbagged” received a standing ovation on the press night and  if you like your modern history spiced with a good dose of humour this one is for you.

“ Handbagged “ runs at the New Vic theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme until Saturday September 28th.

Telephone the box office for tickets on 01782 717962 or email tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk