Not since Tory socialite Henry Conway’s 2010 election party, for which he dressed as Margaret Thatcher and hired pole dancers (poll tax, geddit?) has the Iron Lady glittered so disturbingly bright. Matt Tedford’s cabaret show Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho is less celebratory of the former prime minister; commissioned for the Thatcher-Write festival following her death last year, it’s a riotously irreverent account of the run-up to the House of Commons’ vote on the government’s notorious Section 28 – which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities.
Tedford’s take on Thatcher (or at least, the Thatcher of our imagination) is uncanny, from the Streep-ily deep, breathy voice and cut-glass consonants to the camply flapping, Spitting Image puppet arms. Of course, she’s an easy target; Thatcher’s cultivated performance of gender and class – and that hair – was practically a drag act itself. But that’s sort of the point of all this – torn on how to vote on the amendment, Maggie flees Westminster late one night and finds herself lost, bedraggled and alone in the capital’s gay quarter. Taken in by a couple of friendly club-goers, she winds up a drag star and revered gay icon. Tedford’s a thrillingly engaging performer throughout, drawing crowds into the Latitude Cabaret tent and keeping them entertained even (especially) when then the tech packs up and he has to improvise.
There’s some cracking, on-the-cheap stagecraft including a talking portrait of Winston Churchill and an inflatable, 80s yuppie phone, as well as a few brilliant lines (written by Tedford and playwright Jonathan Brittain) – the best of which riff on Thatcher’s well worn soundbites. “It soon became clear I was going the wrong way, and I could have turned back… but you all know my opinion on turning.”
Structurally, it does feel a little uneven. It would have been fun to see where Maggie ends up in this alternate, show-tune universe – and the future of the nasty party with a Soho queen at the helm – but it cuts off rather suddenly, the whole late-night adventure seeming like an afterthought. Still, it’s hard to begrudge them this when the gags and cabaret numbers are so consistently good, and the thrown-together, slipshod nature of the show is part of its charm. Queen of Soho‘s camp conservatism and subtle subversiveness is a gloriously dark reminder of the party’s past as it tries to rebrand itself in the era of equality.
Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho played at Latitude.