Set during the consequent terms of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Moira Buffini’s Handbagged provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on the apparent power struggle between two of the longest serving British patriots, Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. Presented as a light-hearted comedy, the play depicts the relationship between Liz and Mags through a series of weekly meetings.
There is a silent war of words between Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, made highly audible through the pro-Commonwealth actions of the Queen, and although it would seem that Liz (Emma Handy) and Mags (Sanchia McCormack) are two sides of the same coin, the play shows the gradual build of their relationship. Liz becomes important to Mags and vice versa, and while neither would acknowledge it, neither would have been so successful without the other. The Queen is a subtle opponent to the often decisive, and sometimes harsh, Prime Minister.
“The exchanges between the two leading ladies are a pleasant surprise”
With the discussion of politics inherent, one would expect such a grave subject to be portrayed by dull and bland characters, but the cast does an incredible job avoiding just that; in fact, the exchanges between the two leading ladies are a pleasant surprise. Be it their exaggerated RP or the many afternoon teas being served on stage, the whole plot is fresh and impressively British.
What is most striking about Handbagged is its superb direction. Indhu Rubasingham manages to direct six actors who convincingly play a diverse mix of characters, both in terms of temperament and nationalities; the most impressive transformation being Asif Khan, who manages to jump from playing Neil Kinnock to Nancy Reagan in just five minutes.
The play takes a more transparent turn when the illusion of the play is broken down, and the characters argue over their casting and auditions, letting the audience in to the making of the play, while keeping the plot interactive.
“The simplicity of the set augments the talent of the cast”
With just a set of armchairs and a table with the backdrop of a room in Buckingham Palace, the simplicity of the set augments the talent of the cast. Besides this, the play vastly benefits from the magnificent interior of Theatre Royal, which lends grandeur to the spectacle.
Perhaps the real winner of the show is the costume choices (courtesy of Richard Kent) of the two distinguished ladies whose dress style exudes power. Both wear outfits meant to seek attention but in very different ways: the Queen seeks to stand out in the many crowds she finds herself in, while Mrs. Thatcher dresses to assert her position in a male-dominated sphere. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences in their dressing since both regarded their attire as power suits, as armour.
Handbagged is a must see; it is beguiling for anyone from political enthusiasts to fashionable Polymaths. In my experience, no stage has ever been so British, so if not for the amazing plot, direction and casting, you must go watch it simply for the love of Britain.
Handbagged is running at the Theatre Royal till 24 October 2015.