Handbagged review: ‘An evening of sparkling performances’

PUBLISHED: 07:31 19 November 2017

Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill]

Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill]

Robert Gill

The gloves are off as the Queen meets her Prime Minister. Emily Perry reviews Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.

Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill] Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill]

I first saw Handbagged in 2013 at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, when it sold out and won an Olivier Award.

Under the artistic directorship of Indhu Rubasingham, the Tricycle has been home to several new plays that have transferred in triumph to the West End and Handbagged was no exception.

It transferred to London’s Vaudeville in 2014, selling out again and receiving another Olivier Award nomination for best new comedy.

I saw it this week, for the second time, at the Barn Theatre and was once again delighted and convinced by Moira Buffini’s insightful, though purely speculative, play about the weekly meetings between the Queen and her Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, during her 11 years in office.

Handbagged at the Barn Theatre Handbagged at the Barn Theatre

It would be impossible to try to single out one from the four equally strong female leads.

I must say, straight away though, that from the moment the older Thatcher (T), played superbly by Victoria Rive, walked on stage looking and sounding uncannily like the real thing, this production took off.

There are always two Queens and Thatchers on stage: older and younger versions who occasionally have different recollections of what was actually said.

And, of course, we can’t know what was said.

Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill] Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill]

The older Queen, regally played by Suzie Major, reminds us, staring out beyond the fourth wall into the audience: “Whatever we say, must stay within these three walls.”

There’s no shortage of these artful lines and I enjoyed all over again the exchange between the older Queen and older T concerning the interval – the Queen wants a break but the PM wants to press on.

The young Margaret Thatcher (Mags) is played with just the right amount of withering bossiness by Lorna Thompson, who has her mannerisms down to a T!

There are times in this play when the former Prime Minister is castigated, but we’re never quite allowed to forget her humanity.

Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill] Handbagged at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: Robert Gill]

Her response to the Grand Hotel bombing is heartrendingly played, while her mention of her anguish when Mark got lost in the desert raises a slightly guilty snigger from the audience.

Natalie Gordon is pitch perfect as the young Queen (Liz), particularly in the delivery of her 21st birthday speech extract.

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Two jobbing actors periodically get to comment on the way the show is being handled and the parts they are required to play.

David Thompson plays, amongst other roles, a memorable Kenneth Kaunda, and borders on drag to play Nancy Reagan.

Paul Russell completes the ensemble and convinces in a variety of roles including Denis Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and a beautifully played Peter Carrington, the PM’s Foreign Secretary, for which he has to endure Thatcher’s outrage for no longer being Denis.

This was an evening of sparkling performances, presented with great assurance by this local theatre which, from my limited experience of it, seems to punch way above its weight.

There may be some tickets still available and I’d advise you to try to get one – you’ll be royally entertained.

Handbagged plays at the Barn Theatre in Hanside Lane, WGC, until Saturday, November 25.

Tickets cost £13. Visit www.barntheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01707 324300.

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