Handbagged: Review

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Contrasting handbags and contrasting opinions. What really did happen in those private meetings between the two most powerful women in the country?

The New Vic’s performance of Handbagged opens with Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher at the end of Mrs Thatcher’s time as PM discussing whether Mrs Thatcher should take a seat. Then, we are introduced to their younger selves, meeting for the very first time.

Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet
Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

The two older women look back over their relationship, over Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years as Prime Minister, in their weekly meetings which were never documented.

Handbagged imagines what might have happened behind closed doors, while they were peers and of a similar age, we can see the two women clashing over their views on the world, society and how things should be done.

Handbagged is a fantastic performance and I truly urge you to go and see it. There are only six actors in total but we are introduced to a whole host of characters including Denis Thatcher, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Prince Philip, Michael Heseltine and Rupert Murdoch.

Handbagged had me in stitches from the off, with the older versions of the women sticking close beside the younger ladies, questioning and correcting them whenever they felt necessary. It also addressed real and serious parts of the United Kingdom’s history like the UK miner’s strike and poll tax riots.

I thought the casting of the younger and older versions of both Queen Elizebeth and Margaret Thatcher to be wonderful. They all grasped the essence of how I had imagined them to be. 

Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet
Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

Zoë Aldrich played ‘Mags’, the young version of the PM, she gave an amazing performance where we could really see Margaret Thatcher go from thoughts of world domination to losing the support of her entire backbench. Jan Goodman worked brilliantly alongside her as ‘T’, her future self, we see them supporting each other through everything. 

The younger ‘Liz’ was played fantastically by Melissa Collier while her future counterpart ‘Q’ was wonderfully played by Louise Bangay. ‘Q’ stood right beside her at all times, correcting her by shouting “I never said that” frequently from across the stage.

Ashley Gerlach and Paul Mundell’s amazing performances were one of my favourite things about the show. They played two actors, discussing who would be playing which role and coming out in full force. I thoroughly enjoyed Ashley Gerlach’s stellar performance as Nancy Reagan.

Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet
Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

I loved how self-aware this play was, even having the ladies argue about whether there should be an interval or whether we should just plough straight through to the end. Audience participation was expertly used, including having the room stand for the Queen and her shaking audience members hands.

A fascinating element of Handbagged was watching two extremely powerful women, one with elected power and one with inherited power, coming to heads with dignity, grace and a cup of tea in their hands. Exactly as you might imagine it would have been. 

Handbagged was written by Oliver Award-winning writer Moira Buffini and expertly directed by Fiona Buffini. Being a Theatre-in-the-Round, positioning of the actors and props is important at the New Vic and I was truly impressed by how little the set changed but with the ever-changing props they told the story without spelling it out, this was down to designer Olivia Du Monceau.

Daniella Beattie did a fantastic job with the lighting, it truly changed the mood. It felt warm when we were in the palace gardens with Her Majesty but cold as the Iron Lady delivered her speeches.

I would recommend going to see Handbagged at the New Vic Theatre to anyone who wants a hilarious but informative insight into what really did happen in those secret meetings.

Handbagged is at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme from Friday 6th September 2019 – Saturday 28th September 2019. For more details call 01782 717962 or visit newvictheatre.org.uk.

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