MOIRA Buffini’s hit play Handbag ged, which ends its 13-venue 2015 UK tour at Bath on Saturday 5th December, is the hilarious imagined story of the meetings between Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990.
It’s such recent history that most members of the audience have bits of the background clearly in their minds. The playwright has split the two main roles, so we see a formal and an informal Liz and Maggie, but none of the four actresses is ever without a handbag, a signature borrowed by the Iron Lady from Lady Bracknell, recently seen at the venue in the person of David Suchet.
The similarities and differences between these two powerful women, born within a year of one another, is brilliantly captured.
HMQ is rooted deep in British history, moulded by generations of tradition, expectation and service. Maggie, on the other hand, is a self-made woman, forced through ambition, determination and skills into the powerful leader we all remember.
Two actors – Asif Khan and Richard Teverson – play all the other roles, from Palace footmen to Nancy Regan, through a range of colourless Tory MPs, Kinnock and the starry Ronald Regan.
But it is Susie Blake as Q, Kate Fahey as (she has the voice to a) T, Emma Handy as the busy and humorous Liz and Sanchia McCormack as Mags who take the lion’s share of the evening, much to the delight of the audience, especially those who get to shake the Royal Hand.
Buffini has created a wise, kindly and wickedly funny queen, and a Thatcher whose undoubted vision and drive was without any perceptible humour or humanity. To the additional characters she gives the political asides, the references to civil unrest, national dissatisfaction and dogged refusal to see the bigger picture.
Handbagged is affectionate, wonderfully funny, beautifully observed and performed, and it leaves a sadness at an opportunities missed and an England more divided than ever.