Few people were – or are – indifferent to Margaret Thatcher. Whatever your point of view she was a phenomenon and many of the events of her eleven years in power were in themselves pretty dramatic so, 30 years on, they lend themselves to good drama. Moira Buffini’s play – which premiered last year in London – explores the relationship between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher during the latter’s years as Prime Minister.
The central conceit in this six-hander is that four actors are enacting the events, watched and overseen by the Queen looking more or less as she does today and by the older Thatcher. It allows for a lot of witty theatrical self-reference such as the Queen saying she’s not keen on theatre and demanding an interval and the two male actors squabbling over who should play whom. As well as presenting a thoughtful account of the events, the piece is very funny. And it’s quite an achievement to present this material without ever really judging or condemning anyone. Thatcher may have been misguided – and the play certainly stresses her extraordinary single-mindedness – but she was also a woman with human foibles and Buffini isn’t out to condemn.
There is some outstanding acting in this show. Susie Blake’s performance as the older Queen is beautifully observed and sustained with dozens of witty one liners delivered with panache. As the older Thatcher, Kate Fahy is angular, brittle and totally humourless which makes for delicious tension between the two of them. The younger version of Thatcher is played by Sanchia McCormack who, when she gets into her stride, captures the manic quality and depicts a woman becoming ever more isolated and distant from reality. Emma Handy is slightly less convincing as the younger Queen but her manner in the set pieces is effective. Asif Khan and Richard Teverson nip engagingly in and out of accents and costumes to create everyone else in the story including Neil Kinnock. Michael Hesletine, Ronald Reagan, Geoffrey Howe and many more. Khan’s Nancy Reagan is quite a tour de force too.
Richard Kent’s white set based on a huge upstage grid which hints at the Union Flag is striking and the 1980s clothes he has designed for all four women are nicely done.
I happened to see this play on the very day that day which saw the Queen become the longest ever reigning monarch. Since she’s one of the few characters in the play who is still with us the synergy of the date seemed highly appropriate. Having opened at Canterbury, this enjoyable show, is touring nationwide until December. Well worth catching.