Sunday, 20 April 2014

**** See Thatcher and the Queen have tea and scones in the Tri-Cycle's comedic production of 'Handbagged' at the West End's Vaudeville Theatre ****


It is the queen’s priority to be as politically neutral, wary of her government ministerial advice but not let her opinion be known if she does not agree. The Prime minister, Thatcher in our case, must respect and acknowledge the sovereign’s opinion irrespective of whether it clashes with her political agenda.  Yet putting principles aside, these influential women could have had a relationship of a more comical and endearing hue as shown by Moira Buffini at the Vaudeville Theatre. 

Indhu Rubashingham’s original tri-cycle production of ‘Handbagged’ is an imagination of the young Queen and Mags having private and awkward conversation over tea and scones, which prove to be a surprisingly unthreatening event. Despite what history may have portrayed, Buffini puts media spin on its head and reveals a personal side to the iconic ladies through four actresses on stage, the Queen (Marion Bailey,) Thatcher (Steller Gonet,) Liz (Lucy Robinson,) and Mags (Fenella Woolgar.) 


‘Handbagged’ is a giggling political farce where Richard Kent’s golden jubilee inspired stage fits a party of both the older and younger figures reflecting on past secrets kept hidden from the world, ‘I didn’t say that’ or  ‘I definitely said that.’ Mags (Woolgar) would look sternly to the audience and state her conservative ideology as if she were at the Houses of Parliament and Liz (Robinson) would sheepishly sink into her seat and admit she is tuning out. Bailey as queen, would then have a moan and tantrum requesting an interval because ‘it’s the best part of the play’ seconds before Thatcher (Gonet) begins to explore her second term as Prime minister. 


Although comedic, the script manages to handle controversial claims on their differing opinions particularly on the commonwealth, policies of the British government including apartheid and the miners' strike. This is where much-needed actors like Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle come in, breaking down chunky and often contentious political subjects. They play multiple characters with a mini sub plot between them regarding which characters to act and which not to which include a Neil Kinnock battle on his ‘I warn you’ speech. 

Mohan plays a palace footman, Kenneth Kaunda, Enoch Powell, Kenneth Clarke, a protester, Michael Shea, and Nancy Regan, which is his boldest impersonation. He wears chic lipstick, is ‘handbagged’ and struts in heels. Jeff Rawle manages to keep his composure in 10 character roles including Dennis Thatcher, Ronald Regan, Lord Peter Carrington, Gerry Adams and Michael Heseltine through a northern Irish accent, American accent, cockney accent, posh accent and a parody imitation of Prince Philip. When interviewed he told me, ‘it’s fraught with disaster, especially coming on with the wrong hat or forgetting your glasses.’


‘Handbagged’ encapsulates over 11 years of Thatcher’s service in less than 2 hours. It will make theatregoers laugh until they cry. It is meant for everyone as the historical events, government figures and humorous jokes are all too familiar. The script is just right which is why ‘Handbagged’ does not fail to show a funnier and unintimidating side to politics.