Review: Handbagged, by Moira Buffini at Cambridge Arts Theatre until October 17

Handbagged by Moira Buffini. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Handbagged by Moira Buffini. Photo: Tristram Kenton - Credit: �Tristram Kenton

Hugely funny and expertly written, Handbagged explores the endlessly fascinating relationship between two of the world’s most powerful women – The Queen and Mrs Thatcher.

Charting the development of the relationship between these two women from their first meeting as monarch and prime minister to the end of Mrs T’s tenure in number 10, the play looks back at some of the pivotal moments of her 11 years in power.

The 1979 Lusaka commonwealth conference, the Falklands conflict, the miners’ strike, Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev, Kinnock, Heseltine – they all get a mention through the prism of the weekly meetings between these two remarkable women.

With older Mrs T (Kate Fahy) and older HM (Susie Blake) looking back at their younger selves - Emma Handy as Liz and Sanchia McCormack as Mags - during the turbulence of the 1980s the acting and writing really is top notch.

The mannerisms, the voices, the clothes, the word play, the chosen topics are all just right and the play reminds us not only what these two women thought and said at the time but also speculates, without too much of a leap, on what they may well have thought and said as well.

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An intelligent and balanced play and immensely funny, Mrs T lectures and hectors while HM is more conciliatory in her approach to global and national affairs, and the humour is non-stop.

In the final analysis perhaps the differences between these women of a similar age outweighed the similarities yet this play brings out the humanity of both them particularly in the sequences about the Brighton bomb and the murder of Lord Mountbatten.

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With the additional bonus of Asif Khan and Richard Teverson both brilliantly performing a selection of supporting roles – Prince Philip, Nancy Reagan, Neil Kinnock and Peter Carrington among them – Handbagged is sparkling fun.

If you get the chance go.

James Marston

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