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Handbagged review at Salisbury Playhouse – ‘a timely revival’

Caroline Harker and Eve Matheson in Handbagged at Salisbury Playhouse. Photo: Helen Murray
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As the UK continues to navigate Brexit, a global spotlight focused relentlessly on the country’s second female prime minister, this revival of Moira Buffini’s Handbagged feels incredibly timely.

Buffini’s play, which won an Olivier in 2014, explores what might have taken place between the Queen and our first female PM, as they exchange views on an increasingly divided Britain and its place in the world at their weekly meetings. In some moments it seems even more topical now than when it was written.

Deftly directed by Jo Newman on Dawn Allsopp’s tiered set, the plays is full of sly observations that feel uncannily accurate. While some moments of Newman’s production could be tightened up, on the whole it’s very entertaining, mischievously funny and resolutely theatrical.

It begins with the actors bickering about the terms of their contracts as Susan Penhaligon’s twinkly-eyed Q – who gets all the best lines – observes that everything said “must stay within these three walls” as she gazes out at the audience through the fourth and yearns for the interval.

Eve Matheson’s Mags and Sarah Crowden’s steely T seem, at first, to be physically and vocally adrift as the younger and older Thatcher. But the similarities grow as the register of Matheson’s voice lowers and the blue of her suit deepens as her years in power advance. Caroline Harker’s Liz is the epitome of cut-glass charm, as she struggles to find common ground with her latest prime minister.

Between them, Andy Secombe and Jahvel Hall play everyone else of any consequence, from Denis Thatcher and the Reagans to Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Kaunda with a variety of wigs and accents, and a hefty dollop of irreverence for historical accuracy.

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Mischievously funny, deftly directed and decidedly timely revival of Moira Buffini's play