Theatre Retrospective: Handbagged at the Tricycle Theatre

As an ardent Thatcherite, I of all people was somewhat skeptical on attending a play based on the relationship of Mrs. Thatcher and Her Majesty the Queen.  Admittedly, Moira Buffini’s Handbagged at the Tricycle Theater, from start to finish was truly agreeable.

In the year of Mrs. Thatcher’s death her portrayal, be it on screen, stage or elsewhere, is going to be no easy task in order to not cause offense. Naturally a growing concern of the director will have been that they are both very much characters that have been ‘done’ before, with the Queen being portrayed by numerous actresses along the years varying from Prunella Scales to Hellen Mirren, whilst Mrs. Thatcher includes the likes of Lindsay Duncan and Meryl Streep.

Although some theatrical license was clearly implemented – Lady T would never have called Ronald Reagan, Ron, only Ronnie –  the play’s dialogue was from the offset purely imagined creation, as famously the discussions between the PM and sovereign of the day never leave the audience room of Buckingham Palace, or at the very least, was never supposed to. This environment of where Dennis and one of the footmen also play several fellow characters on an improvised nature adds to this close setting without it becoming too stuffy and retains a sense of being easy to follow. For those who did loose their way, scripts of the play are available from Faber Plays at £9.99.

Many critics and viewers alike will have made several comparisons to the recent National Theatre play ‘The Audience’ where Dame Helen Mirren reprised her role as QEII, masterfully as ever and humour indeed was a feature of the play, whereas Haydnn Gwynne’s portrayal of the late Baroness was perhaps somewhat too close to the Spitting Image caricature many will shriek to remember. This play, however, by focusing on just two characters and with older and younger counterparts, allows the audience to form closer relationships with those on stage, compared to many coming on and off in a blur.

The enjoyment of Handbagged certainly owes a great debt to its relatively small cast, especially when the Q and T are doubled with older and younger counterparts, looking back in hindsight to the discussions made in those famous “eleven and a half years”. Fenella Woolgar who recently won the Clarence Derwent Award played the younger ‘Mags’ , and had the voice down to a tee, quite literally it was as though the young Mrs. Thatcher, fresh in power, was in the room herself and Derwent certainly stole the show. Conversely it was the older Q who was more convincing in the role, in appearance, tone and gait, but essentially humour. Understandably the younger image of Liz is somewhat less fresh in our minds, perhaps a reason for this judgement, and very hard to be avoided in this form of play, Clare Holman was just too squeaky.

In short, I ask myself two pivotal questions on the play. Did the play offend those who admired either protagonists?  Where those events that indeed caused great disruption and turmoil in Britain neglected from the script?… No, No, No.