In life and in office, Margaret Hilda Thatcher was the inspiration behind much theatre, often that of revolt or opposition, yet also a form of theatre that chimed with her neo-liberal principals; indeed, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s 1980s heyday is testament to this. Now Theatre503 is taking a stab at theatre and performance art post-Thatcher through a collection of short plays which go from re-imagining the Thatcher legacy, playing a game of What If?, shining a light on communities under Thatcherism or just simply stating the bleedin’ obvious.
Full credit to Theatre503 for presenting this before the full Thatcher-saturated dust has settled, and this works to create several highly emotive and charged pieces. This does also however come at the expense of any new thought or ideas as much of what is said has already been said before, and, dare I say it, with a little bit more nuance. Instead, we are left with what feels a bit like a scratch night, rather than a fully polished production.
The night starts in the bar with Apples, a metaphor-heavy piece in which free-market Thatcherite policy is explained through competing market stall-holders. Unfortunately not working in the song’s favour is the fact that the bar is full of sodden theatre-goers, escaping the grey drizzle outside, whose immediate concentration is focused on securing a drink rather than undertaking a ‘neoliberalism for dummies’ refresher course. The audience, however is more forgiving as we return to Apples twice more during the evening and it transpires to be a motif that evolves throughout the night.
The first sit-down performance comes from Dominic Cavendish’s True Blue, which places Thatcher on a desert island, then throws her about in non-linear sequence to being interviewed on radio up to her last frail days in London, a bit like the chronological device used in, erm, The Iron Lady. (Indeed, just like in the recent Thatcher bio-pic with Meryl Streep, I find myself transfixed by Georgia Strawson’s highly credible Thatcher impression, complete with husky tones and formidable barnet, which means unfortunately I lost some of Cavendish’s writing.)
Kay Adshead deserves mention for her trio of I Am Sad You Are Dead Mrs T monologues, delivered ably by Jordan Mifsud’s thuggish ‘yoof’ who notes (in what is presumably a dig at New Labour) that Thatcher was “Tony Blair’s favourite nan”, Joe Richardson as a grotesque wannabe Conservative MP, and Bella Heesom, who ‘tells it like it is’ from the perspective of a Manchester council estate, where ‘‘you can’t have care in the community, if there is no community or care’’.
Ben Worth’s Suit and Tie is a horrifying piece which displays the ‘lad culture’ which permeates the banking system. Bankers are shown to be brutal and repugnant, ‘raising a glass to Maggie’ before objectifying women and employing casual violence in seedy nightclubs.
With Thatcherwrite proving to be a little hit-and-miss, thank goodness therefore for Jon Brittain and Matthew Tedford’s electric Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, which sees Tedford dragged up to gloriously high camp proportions accompanied by two hot-panted backing dancers and singers stranded in Soho on the eve of the homophobic Section 28 vote, who comes to realise (via full musical accompaniment from The Weather Girls) that ‘the gays’ aren’t such a bad bunch after all. Often, the strongest messaging can be delivered through the politics of subversion, and Tedford revels in his terrible wig and threadbare feather boa, providing both devilish humour and wit, but also thoughtful politicking. Get Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho to Edinburgh or Brighton soon please.
Thatcherwrite’s set is a collage of Thatcher press cuttings and front pages, and this, combined with extracts of Thatcher’s most notorious and infamous speeches being played upon exiting, would suggest that Thatcher and theatre have unfinished business. But perhaps Thatcherwrite has laid the foundations for others to build upon.
Thatcherwrite is playing at Theatre503 until 15 June. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre503 website.