Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Moira Buffini’s new comedy Handbagged at the Vandeville Theatre.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/34854/landscape_large.jpg?1397748937Two enduring female icons born six months apart-on destined to rule, the other elected to lead. But when the stiff upper lip softened and gloves came off, which one had the upper hand?

This is the question posed by Moira Buffini’s mischievous and entertaining new comedy Handbagged (Vandeville Theatre after transferring from the Tricycle) which speculates on what the two grandes dames of the 20th century really talked about behind closed palace doors.

For 11 years from 1979 to 1990 the Queen had a private weekly meeting with Mrs Thatcher, and although there is no record of what passed between the monarch and her Prime Minister, Buffin wittily imagines what might have taken place. But the play broadens out, portraying with great accuracy Thatcher’s policies and attitudes  and her relationship with Ronald Reagan, President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, and in many ways her ideological soulmate.

Her relationship with the monarch, however, was more frosty with serious differences of opinion between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. The main dispute between them was alleged to concern the issue of sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The British government was opposed to sanctions, while the rest of the Commonwealth was in favour. It was alleged that the Queen was worried lest the issue of sanctions threaten the cohesion of the Commonwealth and perhaps even cause its disintegration.

If this all sounds heavy handed for a play it is not and indeed Buffini’s truant through recent history also encompasses the Falklands war and Thatcher’s domestic policies in particular her unyielding attitudes towards the miners who has been on strike during much of 1984 and 1985, and her tolerance of high unemployment.

The weakness of the play is that it lacks a certain individuality and depth and does not have the power and insight of The Audience, that excellent comedy recently staged in the West End which trod similar territory and had a sparkling performance from Helen Mirren as the Queen. But it is nevertheless very funny and still revealing about its subject matter.

Director Indhu Rubasingham has created a light-hearted, meta-theatrical set-up in which both characters – the Queen and Mrs Thatcher – have a younger and older self on stage simultaneously. She also manages to draw marvellous performances from Marion Bailey and Lucy Robinson as the older and younger Thatcher respectively, supported by Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle in a number of male roles.


Plays until August 2

Box office: 0844 482 9675

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