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Handbagged review at Jack Studio Theatre, London – ‘delightfully playful’

arah Tortell, Howie Ripley and Fiona McGahren in Handbagged at Jack Studio Theatre. Photo: Dave Jones.
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Moira Buffini’s delightful Olivier-winning comedy Handbagged imagines what may have happened in the weekly meetings between Queen Elizabeth II and prime minister Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990.

First written as a one-act play for the Tricycle Theatre and then expanded into a full-length piece in 2013, Buffini’s play has an older queen and prime minister comment on their own younger counterparts, often disputing what took place – “I didn’t say that”, “But you thought it” – as memory is unreliable. This allows Buffini free speculative rein as to what really went on behind closed doors at Buckingham Palace, of which there is no record.

“Whatever we say must stay between these three walls” is the metatheatrical joke. There were rumours that the Queen did not see eye to eye with Mrs T, and this is the basis of most of the play’s satirical humour.

Many of the major events of the period are touched on, including Zimbabwe independence, the Falklands War, the miners’ strike and the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing, but this is anything but a dry history lesson. Two male actors multi-role various people involved in the headlines of the day including both Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Arthur Scargill and Geoffrey Howe, as well as breaking down the fourth wall by chatting to the audience in Dan Armour’s entertaining revival.

Sarah Tortell captures Thatcher’s husky-voiced, single-minded conviction, while Sue Higginson is a formidably uncompromising elder. Fiona McGahren gives the Queen a quiet determination, with Pauline Armour’s older, dottier impersonation looking forward to the interval. As a palace footman Howie Ripley provides a counter-narrative of race riots and poll tax riots, engaging in a face-off with Mark Steere’s Denis Thatcher to play Neil Kinnock.

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Entertaining revival of Moira Buffini’s delightfully playful comedy about the Queen and Margaret Thatcher