Handbagged, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre – Review


Pauline Armour

As the two women who have had the greatest impact in Britain at a State level in the past 70 years, it seem only appropriate that a play should exist that explores this and their relationship with each other. We are of course talking about Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher.

First performed at the Tricycle Theatre in 2014 and then the West End, Handbagged makes its debut at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre. Set for the most part at the weekly meetings that Thatcher (and all British prime ministers) had with the Queen, the ‘Mags’ and ‘Liz’ of later years are joined on stage by their younger counterparts, as well as a number of key figures who were important at that time.

As a non-partisan play, Handbagged  isn’t afraid to poke fun at anyone and much of the conversations that writer Moira Buffini has imagined touch on the subjects that satirical programmes such as Spitting Image raised at that time.

Handbagged acknowleges that it’s a meta- play, so while Sue Higginson and Pauline Armour play the mature ‘T’ and ‘Q’, and Sarah Tortell and Fiona McGahren play the younger ‘Liz’ and ‘Mags’, Howie Ripley and Mark Steere get to speak to the audience as ‘themselves’ as well as a host of other characters. As well as playing Dennis Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe, Ronald Reagan and Arthur Scargill, their finest moment is the jostling with each other to play Neil Kinnock!

L-R: Sarah Tortell, Howie Ripley and Fiona McGahren. Photos © Dave Jones

While Handbagged can be appreciated by everyone, it is a must-see for anyone who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s and remembers first-hand the highs and lows of that period. It’s amazing the things one may have forgot and the intense memories the play triggers. Asides from playing ‘an actor’, Ripley’s character is the ‘devil’s advocate’ who offers a more objective, historical perspective of those times and asks the awkward questions that history demands answered.

Even though Handbagged was first performed three years, it is possible to see the events of the past in a new light. The play raises the point that Thatcher wanted to distance Britain from the Commonwealth (in direct contrast to the Queen’s opinion) and its disapproval of apartheid-era South Africa. Then there’s Thatcher’s isolationist foreign policy (with America being the exception), especially with regards to Britain’s relationship with Europe. In this light the ghost of Thatcher and her legacy can be felt in the very marrow of the supporters of Brexit.

As stated in the play, the Queen and Thatcher were in many ways two sides of the same coin. Handbagged shows that perspective is a double-edged sword – amidst the laughter, clarity of past events is a bittersweet boon.

© Michael Davis 2017

Handbagged runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 11th March 2017

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