Magazine article Variety

Bag Full of Smart Laffs

Magazine article Variety

Bag Full of Smart Laffs

Article excerpt

Bag Full of Smart Laffs

Everyone likes secrets, especially dramatists. So it's no surprise that the unraveling of the mysteries of the current Queen Elizabeth's famously undocumented weekly meetings with her prime minister proved audience catnip in Peter Morgan's fictional "The Audience" starring Helen Mirren. But playwright Moira Buffini got there first with "Handbagged," a 2010 short about the queen vs. Margaret Thatcher, since expanded into a fulllength comedy that just bagged an Olivier Award. Pin-sharp performances and Buffini's fleet and delicious script ignite Indhu Rubasingham's highly enjoyable West End transfer.

Not content with mere neat impersonations of the two stateswomen, who were heavily rumored to have had a difficult relationship, Buffini upsets expectations with a smart dramaturgical trick. Audiences settle into the opening niceties of Marion Bailey's devastating embodiment of the queen (the grim set of her mouth, the arm held tight to the waist with fluttering fingers) meeting Stella Gonet's braying and loftily hairsprayed Thatcher. Then up pop younger, contrary versions of themselves, played, respectively by firmly well-bred Lucy Robinson and, with uncanny precision, a magnificently patronizing, breathy Fenella Woolgar.

Not knowing what was said at these meetings gives Buffini free rein to imagine the best - and worst - of the women's often frostily well-mannered, polite behavior. She elicits the most delight from the way in which they indulge in a covert version of the traditionally male game of jockeying for position.

The doubling device adds yet more flavor. In their initial 1979 meeting following Thatcher's general election win on her way to becoming prime minister, the younger queen observes of her husband, the duke of Edinburgh, "Philip and I had money on the result." "No we had not," snaps her older self, anxious to keep the record dean. …

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