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Handbagged review at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – ‘witty comedy’

The cast of Handbagged at Belgrade Theatre Coventry. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of Handbagged at Belgrade Theatre Coventry. Photo: Tristram Kenton

First performed at the Tricycle Theatre before transferring to the West End, Moira Buffini’s comedy based around the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher comes out of London for a national tour.

With Mrs Thatcher’s death occurring while the piece was being created, Buffini was able to give full rein to creating a character whose real life actions so split the nation. Here we have a Mrs Thatcher who is desperate to be liked and understood by a monarch who instead disagrees with many of her policies and finds her dull.

Buffini succeeds in blurring timelines by having two actresses playing both parts – a younger Queen and Mrs Thatcher and their older counterparts who look back on that relationship. The conversations and disagreements are supposition – a fact Buffini frequently exploits by having the older characters state ‘I never said that’.

The production cleverly interweaves politics with personality, lacing the exchanges with dry humour. Buffini plays with the theatrical setting by interspersing dramatic scenes with asides to the audience while some of the actors take on the guise of a host of historical figures, telling the audience who they are supposed to be.

At times the historical references are quite dense and risk being obscure. Buffini does depend a little on her audience knowing the period and the characters involved. For someone who had not lived through the 1980s and early 1990s some of the humour of the references could be lost.

Susie Blake is endearing as a Queen who can wither an opponent with one line while smiling and shaking hands with her public. Kate Fahy has perfected Mrs Thatcher’s voice and mannerisms so that she is uncannily like the former Prime Minister.

Richard Kent’s staging is minimal – a giant Union Jack which is a constant reminder of the importance of nation and empire in the discussions and power play taking place before it.

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Moira Buffini takes a wry look at the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher in this witty comedy