Theatre Review: Handbagged by Moira Buffini

Julia Watson (T), Eliza Hunt (Q), Ian Barritt (Actor 2), Matt Addis (Actor 1), Alice Selwyn (Mags) and Emma Carter (Liz). Photo by Keith Pattison.

By Ken Powell

Theatre by the Lake’s latest production in the Main House is a smidgen off perfection. If you remember the 80s and love comedy you simply must go and see it.

Moira Buffini’s political comedy imagines what the weekly conversations between Margaret Thatcher and The Queen would have been like during the eleven years of Thatcher as Prime Minister.

Never cruel, yet incisively insightful, the two women are represented as young and old by four actors. Interestingly, all four remain on the stage for most of the time, taking turns to tell the story and interrupting one another on regular occasions (often with cries of “I never said that!”). The interactions of all are truly superb.

Buffini researched only what was in the public domain for the material deliberately avoiding biased opinions so she could present these two hugely influential ladies as honestly – and respectfully – as possible. However, the actors themselves must surely have done as much. It is, of course, all in a day’s work for actors to take on different personas and change accents. Nevertheless, this play demanded going the extra mile.

Eliza Hunt (Q) and Emma Carter (Liz). Photo by Keith Pattison.

In particular, Alice Selwyn (Mags), as young Thatcher, got her voice and mannerisms spot on. Likewise, Eliza Hunt (Q), as an old Queen, was the spitting image of Her Majesty. Emma Carter (Liz), as the young Queen, somewhat unnerved me as, for the first time, I found Her Majesty rather attractive – not a thought I’ve had before! She did a brilliant job of revealing both the way our monarch holds herself with dignity yet also has great compassion and humanity.

I came to the play most looking forward to seeing Julia Watson (T) – playing an old Thatcher – having enjoyed many years of watching her as Baz on Casualty. She made a poignant, slightly pathetic character, brilliantly given the last word to the play. But I have to say – and do so without sexist prejudice I hope – that even this experienced star was upstaged by the two male actors who completed the group.

Matt Addis and Ian Barritt (actors 1 & 2) could not look, nor act, more differently but somehow were a perfect blend together. Taking multi-part comic roles reminiscent of the clowns of TBTL’s runaway success The 39 Steps, these two not only had the audience in stitches (and at times I was howling unashamedly), but their versions of major figures such as Neil Kinnock and (unforgettably) Michael Heseltine were brilliantly accurate.

Anyone who has an interest in the history of modern British politics will undoubtedly enjoy this show which is as thought-provoking as it is hilarious. I was impressed with how Buffini managed to present The Queen as a left-wing socialist (at least in comparison to Thatcher) but also intrigued by how both women were given space to reveal their frailty as humans as much as the strength for which they are both known. I couldn’t help but see the similarities in the original ‘Iron Lady’ to our current Prime Minister, though I might have been the only one to laugh loudly when Thatcher declares with glee “I won with a landslide!”

Anyone with some knowledge of this period of history will enjoy the show. But it is those who are old enough to remember living through it who will truly appreciate the production. If that’s you, I urge you to buy a ticket now and see this wonderful, impossibly deep, trip down a turbulent memory lane.

‘Handbagged’ plays in the Main House until 3 November. Book tickets online at www.theatrebythelake.com or call the box office on 017687 74411. 

Alice Selwyn (Mags), Ian Barritt (Actor 2) and Julia Watson (T). Photo by Keith Pattison.