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Review: Handbagged at Newcastle Theatre Royal

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When Two Ladies Clash

Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until 31st October 2015

During the 1980s, the Queen and Margaret Thatcher both had very public personas. It is easy to believe you’d know what it would have been like to meet either of them. As they both lived their lives in the full glare of the tabloid-driven world, they both had a lot of different reasons to remember that decade. Handbagged is an amusing look at the events of that 11 year period from 1979 when Mrs Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister. Moira Buffini has penned a play that imagines how these two ladies interacted as major world events unfolded.

The small cast of six consists of two Queens and two Mrs Thatchers. Emma Handy and Sanchia McCormack battle out the weekly meetings over biscuits and sponge cake whilst Susie Blake and Kate Fahy offer the audience their more private thoughts, occasionally with hindsight. Susie in particular has a wonderful range of one liners to deliver with superb comic timing.

A huge range of roles from Dennis Thatcher, members of the cabinet and world leaders to Mrs Regan and Neil Kinnock, are played by Asif Khan and Richard Teverson. The slick, and sometimes less than slick, changing of roles gives the show the feel of a light entertainment show on tv rather than a serious historical theatre production. It is, however, Asif’s character that points out some of the major issues about living in the 80s, from the strikes to unemployment and from Libyan air strikes through to the unrest over the poll tax. Though the serious news of the time is flagged up, the general direction of the play never loses the light touch and it usually finds the funny side of the story.

From the very beginning the play smashes the fourth wall as Mrs T and the Queen address the theatre audience. Their casual asides frequently causes the Theatre Royal audience to laugh. From the moment the Queen drags a chair across for Margaret to use the lighter tone is set. The show portrays both the likely view held at that time, for example Dennis Thatcher’s less than politically correct observations, and a more current analysis.

Based upon the speculation in the press at that time, the conversations are believable. The way the 2 women felt about each other is also in keeping with public perception. As Head of State, the Queen was unable to express any displeasure in public, but her Christmas speeches often outlined her view on society based upon a Christian viewpoint. Perhaps such views can come across as socialist too and one can imagine how irritating the Prime Minister found that.

The play is also good at quickly filling in the younger members of the audience on the background to some significant events, such as Rhodesia, which they may not be fully aware of. The 1980s were a time of a contracting empire and a change in the political order. Both ladies were acutely aware of that though this does not stop them trying to score points against each other.

The show comes across as both friendly and light hearted and yet not dismissive of the serious issues. It doesn’t set out to trivialise but it retains a strong sense of humour.  Strong acting the all six coupled with acute sense of comic timing makes this a very entertaining show.

One is very amused!

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for the North East Theatre Guide from Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook

Handbagged appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 26th – Saturday 31st October 2015. Tickets from £12 (pay 50p less per ticket when you book online).
Tickets can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21, (calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) or select your own seat and book online at

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