Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre the Rivals

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre the Rivals

Article excerpt

Handbagged Tricycle, until 16 November Hag Soho, until 20 October A feast of pleasures, and some annoyances, at the Trike. Handbagged, by Moira Buffini, is a fictional account of the weekly audiences between Mrs Thatcher and the Queen.

The staging is extremely odd. Buffini gives monarch and prime minister two impersonators each. This enables us to trace the minor developments in hair colour and frock choice between 1979 and 1990. But also encourages the pairs of actors to outdo each other. Here are the results.

Marion Bailey plays the older Queen as an unbudgeable human lighthouse. The facial gestures are beautifully done and Bailey gets that stoical out-thrust lip pout that has become the Queen's signature grimace in recent years. The beautiful Clare Holman is miscast as the younger Queen, in her mid-60s, and her prim, brittle impersonation is short of grandeur and authority. Stella Gonet is the runner-up as Thatcher. She's a tad perfunctory and her voice has a hysterical hint that makes her sound like a cartoon witch. Fenella Woolgar's version reaches sublime heights. She must have spent hours poring over an archive of TV clips and practising Thatcher's low, breathy drawl and her quirky habit of accelerating through the middle of a phrase and slowing at the end.

And Foolgar captures the emotional timbre of Thatcher's voice. She gives it an intrusive and lightly scornful matronly intimacy. Even Meryl Streep, in The Iron Lady, didn't find this level of detail.

The play offers a wealth of vivid, homely truths as the ladies tussle for supremacy over tea and cakes. Thatcher calls the Queen 'majesty', never 'ma'am', and when the Queen invites her to indulge in gossip, Thatcher stiffens and declines to play along, even though the rules of confidentiality would make it perfectly acceptable. Gulfs of ice separate the pair. When the Queen ventures a criticism, Thatcher rebukes her from a lofty position using the legal nicety 'your government' to mean 'me'. 'Constitutionally, you must ally yourself with your government.' The Queen, retaliating unconsciously, invites Thatcher outdoors to have a squelch across the palace grounds in her high heels.

Thatcher also has to accept the yearly invitation to Balmoral, which she takes to like a duck to treacle.

Right at the end, in the week of Thatcher's downfall, a hint of warmth emerges. The Queen swaps the teapot for a decanter, and pours them both three fingers of scotch. …

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