Born just six months apart, one destined to rule as monarch, the other destined to lead as Prime Minister; Handbagged is an entertaining offering of their somewhat tepid relationship. Handbagged, though based on speculation, presents a unique insight into the private weekly meetings between these two icons. In a stroke of genius writer Moria Buffini doubles up the central characters, so you are given both old and young incarnations. The older and younger Queen, are respectively known as Q (Marion Bailey) and Liz (Lucy Robinson). Similarly, you are given an older and younger Margaret Thatcher known as, T (Stella Gonet) and Mags (Fenella Woolgar).
Completing the cast are both, Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle, who together portray various figures, from the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Thatcher’s husband Denis, Ronald Reagan (to add an extra comedic dimension, Mohan dons a red frock, and portrays Ron’s wife Nancy), and even Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary Peter Carrington. Together this ensemble cast produce an insightful, smart, and at times poignant take on the weekly meetings between Liz and Mags. Handbagged is afternoon tea with a difference.
The script is Handbagged’s most enduring feature. We know very little of what was said, and the confrontations, which transpired in their weekly meetings. But Buffini, presents a plausible narrative that brings to the surface the conflicting nature, and differences that existed between Liz and Mags. These two leading ladies were quite obviously at opposite ends of the political scale, which is clearly noticeable. It was these differences, which Buffini exploits in Handbagged. Thatcher’s begrudging acceptance of majority rule in Zimbabwe, and general unwillingness to support sanctions against apartheid South Africa, are some areas of huge confrontation between the two leading ladies. But the genius of Buffini is that she is able to balance the serious debates, add yet simultaneously adds a layer of comedy to the production. The Queen at one point remarks of Thatcher, that ‘for a Methodist, she’s remarkably un-Christian.’
The four leading ladies of Handbagged do pack a punch. It’s Bailey as Q, which provides Handbagged with its comedic dimension. It seems that Q, the older incarnation of the Queen, now unrestrained, has quite a few things she wants to get off her chest about Thatcher. Both Gonet as T, and Woolgar as Mags, have both nailed, and captured the aura and presence of Thatcher; they effortlessly capture Thatcher’s hard-line approach to both politics and life in general.
However, they were also able to capture a different side of Thatcher; during the discussion of the Brighton bombings, Woolgar naturally presents the raw emotion, through her delivery of Thatcher’s party-conference speech, which was both moving and touching. All four ladies through their series of recollections present on-stage a natural, mischievous, and yet real portrayal of the both the Queen and Thatcher. Though there was a great chasm between these two icons, these four actresses are able to exhibit both the vulnerable and human emotions of both the Queen, and Thatcher.
Handbagged is certainly more than a piece of political theatre; it is a comedic and at times entertaining theatrical production, which allows the audience to see these two icons, like never before. The intimate stage-setting of Handbagged allows the audience to grasp, and feel the raw emotion and the trials and tribulations, which characterised this unique relationship. Handbagged is afternoon tea with a difference.