I FIRST met Margaret Thatcher in the ballroom of the King’s Arms Hotel in Christchurch, the week before she became leader of the Conservative party in early 1975. The research chemist and barrister was a blazing light among the stodgily familiar Tory faithful.
Interviewing her after her speech, she was direct, what we now call “engaged” and did something few politicians then or now do – she answered questions. I was bowled over. Even if I hated what happened next, and attributed a raft of horrors to her legacy, I never forgot that first impression. And that was even before the famous voice was a fully developed production.
It’s that voice that Somerset-based actor Pip Utton uses as the cornerstone of his amazing solo show, Playing Maggie … The Iron Lady. Dora Bryan always started from the shoes, but for Pip it is that carefully learned modulation that brings Baroness Thatcher to vibrant life, on this occasion at a packed West Stafford Village Hall as part of a four-date Artsreach tour.
The multi-award winning actor and writer’s reputation is built on his one-man shows, for which he always does extensive research. But this one is his highest risk performance yet, often unscripted and allowing each and every audience to question the former PM, returned from the grave to meet her people again.
Of course there are tricks, a few laughs (well ONLY a few, as Maggie’s humour by-pass was legendary) and if I were to be hyper-picky, I’m pretty sure that Margaret would never have said “invite” when the word was “invitation”.
But this is a spellbinding evening in which the first female Prime Minister walks again, comments on her fellow world leaders, her opposition, her husband and children and whatever questions the audience has in store.
The clever framework brings one negative aspect of the time into fierce focus, as we all try to look back with clear eyes on recent history, and leave with our own opinions intact, but perhaps a little softer … or harder.
One audience member tried to bring The Donald into the equation, but was met with nothing but tonsorial advice.
Don’t miss this extraordinary performance, by both Mr Utton and Mrs T.
After an Australian tour, they return to the village halls at Shipton Gorge on 24th February and at Briantspuddle the following night.