Handbagged: a short review

If you find yourself in London with an afternoon or evening to spare, you might do worse than go and see Handbagged at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand. It’s a play written by Moira Buffini about the relationship between Maggie Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth. But in each case, you get two for the price of one. There is Maggie Thatcher as she was at the start of her first term as PM (Fenella Woolgar—Mags), and again as she was at the end of her time in office (Stella Gonet—T). Similarly, there is a younger (Lucy Robinson—Liz) and older version of the Queen (Marion Bailey—Q).

There are two other cast members: Jeffrey Rawle and Neet Mohan who play an assortment of additional characters—Dennis T, Geoffrey Howe, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and several more.

The set is very simple. For the most part, the scene is the private drawing room where Liz and Mags meet for the weekly audience. We are taken on a two-hour (ish) journey through the Thatcher Years. The only props are a couple of chairs and a tea-table, which are moved around. Otherwise, the audience has to use its imagination for other locations, such as Chequers, or the Reagans’ home in California.

As the four leading ladies discuss some of the key events, they interact with each other, the other characters and the audience. The dialogue is, at times, funny—sometimes very funny—and sometimes poignant.

The characters played by Neet and Jeffrey introduce further commentary, or backstory information for the audience. There is a wonderful scene when they have a “Kinnoch-off’. Neet says that it’s his contract that he will be Neil Kinnoch, but Jeffrey wants to do the ”I warn you…” speech. So they both do, speaking alternately.

The performances are all excellent, but especially those of Fenella Woolgar who seems to channel Thatcher, and Marion Bailey who managed to convey so much eloquent regal disapproval with a twist of her lips or a few fluttering hand gestures.

Handbagged is a great piece of theatre, well-written, witty, altogether entertaining.

This is the full text of Kinnoch’s speech (07 June 1983), which is a wonderful piece of rhetoric:

If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.
I warn you that you will have pain—when healing and relief depend upon payment.
I warn you that you will have ignorance—when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.
I warn you that you will have poverty—when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.
I warn you that you will be cold—when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.
I warn you that you must not expect work—when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.
I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.
I warn you that you will be quiet—when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.
I warn you that you will have defence of a sort—with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.
I warn you that you will be home-bound—when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.
I warn you that you will borrow less—when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday—
– I warn you not to be ordinary
– I warn you not to be young
– I warn you not to fall ill
– I warn you not to get old.

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