Handbagged review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘funny, assured revival’

The cast of Handbagged at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo: Keith Pattison The cast of Handbagged at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo: Keith Pattison

Moira Buffini’s Handbagged is an antidote to the view of history, common on both stage and screen, that reduces it to palace drawing-room drama.

From the sly opening meta-dramatic reference to the absent fourth wall, this exploration of the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, that began life as a one-act play in 2010, is far more playful.

Buffini’s extended version imagines what went on in the private meetings between the two women over a period of 11 years. Liz Stevenson’s production is assured, pacy and funny. Scene transitions ring the changes through photo-ops, with movement director Sian Williams contributing a range of tightly-disciplined poses.

Louie Whitemore’s set fills the theatre’s main house, the bare stage spilling out between classical pilasters.

Julia Watson, as the elder Thatcher, and Eliza Hunt, as the elder Queen, offer uncannily good impersonations – caricatures as well as characters – and are particularly good at delivering undercutting asides.

Emma Carter as the younger Queen and Alice Selwyn as the younger Thatcher carry more of the emotional weight of what is still at heart a play about how two very different, almost exact contemporaries saw and exercised political power. The various bit-parts taken by Matt Addis and Ian Barritt tend towards more exuberant comedy, with their Coogan/Brydon style ‘Kinnock-off’ a particular highlight.

Funny, assured revival of Moira Buffini's amusing modern classic performed with heart