Handbagged – Review by David Bithell

Handbagged – Review by David Bithell                                        

Written by Moira Buffini and directed by Fiona Buffini, Handbagged is about two very iconic ladies from different backgrounds but prominent figures.

There are only two people who actually knows what happened during those meetings, and that is Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. Handbagged is about a play of imagining of what might have happened behind closed doors and the dialogue that may have taken place.

The play sees two older women narrating and looking back at their past playing out their younger selves. The staging is a map of Great Britain and there is a huge crown suspended from the ceiling.

Did Margaret Thatcher and Queen actually get along? Or did they bicker and really not get on with each other.  The play is fantastic in its approach and gives us a bit of an insight of what “might’ve” been said during those awkward conversations following the Queens annual Christmas speeches and Thatcher’s constant power battles with the system and the world.  Moira’s script and Fiona’s direction presents a very balanced view of what could have been.

I remember being young and seeing this woman on TV and being encouraged not to like “Maggie” because she was “the Iron Lady” and people across the world were scared of her.  I kind of thought of her as a panto villain or a baddie from a film.  As you grow old, you start to understand what it must have been like for this woman in a normal dominated male environment.

When Thatcher played by Jan Goodman, appears on set at the beginning of the play, she begins one of Thatcher’s chilling rants it took me back to seeing this strong figure on TV.  Wearing the famous turquoise blue outfit, necklace and clutching her handbag.  Joining her on stage was the Queen played by Louise Bangay, appearing calm, charismatic and the opposite voice of reason.

When the play was first announced I was wary of it, I’m not 100% into politics but being young at the time of Thatcher being in power, I gave it a go with an open mind, I was certainly not disappointed.  The play was fantastically funny and hilarious.

The script was quick paced and true to its historical events.  Narrating the story alongside the ladies are Paul Mundell and Ashley Gerlach who play a multitude of characters.  The character portrayals were closely enough to the real thing.  Paul Mundell carried the burden of playing Hestletine, Denis Thatcher, Ronald Reagan (which was amazing), Geoffrey Howe and briefly Gerry Adams.  The crowd warmed to his comedic timing and mannerisms.  Ashley Gerlach was fantastic in his approach to many of the political figures of that time.  My favourite was the playing of Nancy Reagan.  I partically liked the “Kinnock off” between Paul and Ashley too.  Zoe Aldrich plays a great young version of Mags (Thatcher) meanwhile Melissa Collier carries the portrayal of a young Liz (The Queen).

Politics can cause heated arguments between the closest of friends. This play encourages you to look back at history and the benefit of having a democratic society.  It also asks you to question what is printed in the tabloid press, following the purchase by Rupert Murdoch of many of the UK tabloid companies at the time.  Handbagged left me reflecting on what I was asked to think and how much of an impact Margaret Thatcher had on the future of ladies in politics.

Handbagged runs at The New Vic until September 28.