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Posts Tagged ‘The Audience’

There have only been three plays featuring the late Queen as a character, and two of them have concerned her relationship with Prime Ministers. Peter Morgan’s The Audience featured all but three of her PM’s (though there have been many since!) but this play featured just one in depth. The Kiln Theatre couldn’t have known how events would unfold when it decided to revive Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, which started as one of six playlets in the Women Power & Politics season in 2010, therby pre-dating Morgan’s play. Even though it’s about events in the 80’s, it’s just eight years since it’s premiere as a full play before its West End transfer, UK tour & New York. It feels extraordinarily timely in so many ways.

It takes us from Margaret Thatcher’s first audience with HMQ to her final one. It suggests their relationship was brittle, largely because of a lack of shared values, which other sources seem to confirm. They clash most over the Commonwealth and socio-economic issues. One of Buffini’s clever devices is two Queen’s and two PM’s – older and younger versions – whose recollections sometimes diverge. The second clever device is to have two male actors play all other roles, including a bearded black Nancy Reagan! They comment on the roles they have to play, and on some of the historical omissions, with the Queen’s and PM’s also sometimes talking direct to the audience. This brings a playfulness and much humour to the piece.

Marion Bailey and Kate Fahy reprise their roles as the older Queen and PM and are joined by Abigail Cruttenden and Naomi Frederick as the younger versions. All four are simply magnificent. Richard Cant and Romayne Andrews provide terrific support in a multitude of roles. I loved this play first time around, but it seems to have grown in the light of everything that has happened since. It has become a tribute to the late Queen, but it has also become a testament to the decline in the standards of politicians. I was never a fan of Thatcher (I’m a miners son from South Wales!) but even she looks brighter and better with hindsight!

A lovely evening, entertaining but also insightful.

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Lest you think this play about Margaret Thatcher and The Queen and their ‘audiences’ owes anything to Peter Morgan’s The Audience, perhaps I should begin by telling you that it started life as one of the nine plays in Women Power & Politics more than three years ago here at the Tricycle Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/women-power-politics). It was one of the highlights of that and now it’s a full length premiere league treat.

It covers Thatcher’s whole period in office and there are two Queen’s and two Thatcher’s – ‘younger’, who are mostly ‘in audience’ and ‘older’, who are mostly looking back, commenting and correcting –  with two men playing all of the male roles (plus Nancy Reagan!), fighting over who plays Neil Kinnock. That’s a lot of events and a lot of audiences. It’s a whistle-stop history of the 80’s told through these weekly meetings and it’s hugely entertaining in Indhu Rubasingham’s excellent fast-paced production. It is, of course, largely speculative, yet it comes to the same conclusions as Morgan did – but by focusing on the Queen’s relationship with this one Prime Minister, it’s able to go into much more depth.

The performances are all superb. Stella Gonet & Fenella Woolgar get the public and private Thatcher to a tee and Marion Bailey & Clare Holman do the same with Elizabeth II. The men – Jeff Rawle & Neet Mohan – play 17 roles between them, from footmen to protesters and Michael Hestletine to Kenneth Kaunda, and are allowed to step out of their characters from time to time, which makes for a lot of fun The existence of an audience is occasionally acknowledged as the fourth wall disappears and we’re addressed directly.

Being in an audience of people old enough to have lived through this period made for a superb atmosphere at the performance I attended. This is an enormous pleasure and if it doesn’t get a West End transfer so that many more people can see it, I will be both surprised and disappointed.

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