Review: Return to the '80s with razor-sharp show in Leamington

Handbagged imagines what happened when the Queen met Margaret Thatcher
Handbagged imagines what happened when the Queen met Margaret Thatcher

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Handbagged at the Loft Theatre, Leamington

No-one who lived through the Thatcher years can forget their struggles: the passions, the hatred, and the commitment that divided Britain in those turbulent times. And such struggles: the end of apartheid (resisted by Thatcher); the IRA bombings (one of which nearly killed her and most of her cabinet); the miners’ strike; the poll tax; the Falklands war; Ronald Reagan. And through it all, two powerful women who, according to this play, had little in common and didn’t like each other much.

The Loft have enormous fun with Moira Bufini’s funny, disturbing play, Handbagged, and it didn’t matter a jot that Angie Collins was standing in at the last minute for Elspeth Dales as the Older Mrs Thatcher and thus read from a script. Accents and attitudes were all perfect. Who could fail to be moved by Anne-Marie Green’s portrayal of the Younger Queen, with her mumsy affection for the people of Britain and the Commonwealth (the latter regarded as an irrelevance by Mrs T). Mary MacDonald perfectly captured the Younger Mrs Thatcher’s intransigence as she smashed her way through the old order. Yet there was something tragic about her demise: she was a fallen god. The Older Queen (Helen Ashbourne) was straight out of a surreal sit-com, reading the Racing Post on the throne. Ed Statham and Phil Reynolds did amazing jobs, playing some 17 supporting parts.

It’s a lovely show with a razor’s edge, and a reminder of how bad things were.

* Handbagged runs until March 3. Visit to book.