If I said to you the words’ women’, ‘power’ and ‘politics’ I guarantee you’d immediately think of Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. Well, so too did playwright Moria Buffini, who penned Handbagged, a hilarious new comedy featuring two of England’s most powerful women.
Starting off as a short play for director Indhu Rubasingham’s Women, Power and Politics season, Handbagged originally played to a sold out Tricycle Theatre, and has now transferred to the Vaudeville, where I’m sure it will enjoy great success during its run.
When you hear the premise, I’m sure you will draw parallels to The Audience which enjoyed massive success in the West End last year, but one big difference is that this story isn’t so much about the Queen, but her relationship with the only female prime minister in her 61 year reign.
Older Elizabeth II (dubbed Q) and older Margaret (T) introduce the setting: a flexible steel structure shaped like the Union Jack, (cleverly designed by Richard Kent) which can be seen as nowhere in particular, but doubles as several of the Queen’s palaces, living rooms, and occasional journeys. Buffini’s brilliant idea is to double-cast the older roles with younger, post-modern versions of themselves who battle out the time they spent together during Thatcher’s 11 year term as prime minister.
These ladies, known as Liz and Mags, show the very stark differences between the two women. Whilst the media reported that there were disagreements between the two women during their weekly meetings, no-one actually knows what transpired in these encounters. Buffini creates a plausible and funny sketch of the conferences, using the older duo to chip in with remarks they no doubt swallowed at the time. Stella Gonet plays T, and Fenella Woolgar as the younger Mags, and both can be added to the list of wonderful women that played the Iron Lady in recent years. The former is more strident in her opinions as her power is slipping away, whilst the younger is still just as fierce. Marion Bailey and Lucy Robinson play Q and Liz respectively, Bailey portraying some very exact impersonations of the current monarch, and Robinson having the younger queen’s high, over-pronounced voice spot-on.
Whilst being all about the women, the play also has help from two male actors, Neet Hohan and Jeff Rawle, as they race through many impersonations of Denis Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, a palace footman, and fighting over Neil Kinnock. They too, exhibit masterful comic timing, and fill in the blanks that could get confusing without them.
What is most clever about the play however, is the way in which the characters are constantly breaking down the fourth wall. Several times we see the two women battle over whether there should be an interval or not, which also shows just how different the two women are.
Whilst the show is incredibly funny, and in itself a history lesson for those of us not old enough to remember Thatcher’s premiership, it has great heart and wit, and never fails to entertain, move and enlighten its audience. Moira Buffini’s words really are the star of the show.
Handbagged is playing the Vaudeville Theatre until 2 August. For more information and tickets see the Handbagged play website.