What do you get when you pit two of Britain’s most famous and respected woman against each other in a two-hour battle of wits, throw in a dashing of tea and a sprinkling of audience interaction? Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, and an evening of sharp political humour.
Buffini boldly delves into the relationship between The Queen and Margaret Thatcher, using four actresses to portray the older and younger versions of the women, allowing for live action and wise retrospective comments. This clever device also allows younger audiences (raises hand) to relate to the characters as we know them – I’m not familiar with The Queen having hair in any colour other than grey.
My youth was definitely one disadvantage I felt throughout the production: I have a good grasp of British politics and history, but some comments did go over my head, through no fault but my own (I really should know more). Not that they were entirely lost on me: the raucous laughter of those older and wiser audience members filled in the holes so I could fully appreciate Buffini’s highly intelligent writing.
…Buffini has done a great job: every line makes sense…
Her subjects are difficult ones: although Thatcher wrote an autobiography and much has been said – by her and others – about her relationship with The Queen, that’s only one side of the story. The Queen’s opinions have been, and probably always will be, a closely-guarded secret, so Buffini had to put words in the monarch’s mouth, much as Peter Morgan did with Helen Mirren’s outstanding The Queen. Similar to Morgan, Buffini has done a great job: every line makes sense as something the monarch would say.
However good lines are nothing without great actresses, and the four leading ladies are absolutely stunning in their roles. Marion Bailey perfectly captures The Queen’s mannerisms, especially her thin-lined frown that says so much, and Stella Gonet is dignified and wise as the older Thatcher. The younger representations of both women are just as fun: Lucy Robinson plays a younger, sprightlier Queen with just the right amount of savvy, and Fenella Woolgar is mischievous in her portrayal of a vivacious newly-elected Thatcher.
…first few interruptions are clever, others disrupt the performance…
A gamble was taken by only casting two male actors to play several roles – between them, Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle played Nancy and Ron Reagan, Dennis Thatcher, Prince Philip, Enoch Powell, Kenneth Clarke and Rupert Murdoch, among others. The actors stop, ask each other questions about their portrayals, and address the audience, which stalls the play and disturbs the natural, witty flow carried throughout. The first few interruptions are clever, others are unwelcome and disrupt the performance.
The four portrayals of Thatcher and The Queen are incredibly clever, embodying the characters and asking us to suspend disbelief as the audience is addressed several times with words and knowing side glances. Buffini’s sharp writing is brought to life sensationally yet subtly – there is not a hint of unnecessary exaggeration or farce in these two hours. Educational, intelligent and very funny, Handbagged is not as combative as the title suggests, but you’ll have a great evening watching these two British figureheads fight it out in a battle of wits, words and wigs.