Mini-review – Meet the Real Maggie Thatcher – Gerundagula Productions at Etcetera Theatre, Camden

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It’s been eight years since I moved to the UK, and I’ve had a lot to catch up on to be “au fait” with modern Britain. I’ll never get my head wrapped around pop music, sports, and TV, but I figured I could at least get the hang of the political situation since World War II (let’s be honest: in American, that’s pretty much when British history stops). Most particularly, I’ve needed to learn about the history of England that took place during my own life, in particular the 70s and 80s: and to learn about this, I’ve had to learn about Margaret Thatcher. “Maggie Thatcher milk snatcher” was a phrase I’d never heard of growing up in America, and miner’s strikes only existed as a background situation for movies like Brassed Off and Billy Elliot. But I’ve been learning: from cabbies, from cowokers, from total strangers queuing next to me in the rain. I’ve learned a lot from theater, recently: from Handbagged and from Maggie Thatcher, Queen of Soho. And then it became really important for me to learn a lot fast, because I wanted to use her as a character in a play, but I didn’t feel like I had internalized the Thatcher voice well enough to write it myself: thus I wound up in contact with Mike Francis Carvalho and (later) was invited to see a production of Meet the Real Maggie Thatcher (currently at the Etcetera Theater).

The play is a one man show that is essentially a series of vignettes tracing Margaret Thatcher’s career as seen through the eyes of average Joes from around the UK: Somerset, Wales, Liverpool, et cetera. Our lead character switches clothing, hats, accents (and on one occasion teeth) to bring his characters to life. More interestingly, the characters have political views that are all over the spectrum, from a sports fan who talks about Thatcher “making Britain great again” to someone saying that on her death, rather than a bank holiday, we should be partying in the streets. (Me, I mostly hear people speak who oppose her, so, while I know the supporters must have been there, they are invisible to my experience.) The events covered ranged from the obvious (miners’ strikes, the Falkland war) to the more subtle (her visits abroad before her election; the Hillsborough tragedy). The cumulative effect is a good one for the feel of the times, helped (I think) by the fact a person who lived through them is speaking them: rather that the cartoonish version I’ve seen recently (Handbagged, Soho), it’s more of a direct experience of what she actually did as a politician and how it was perceived at the time. Drag queens and puppets are all good fun but it’s helping Margaret Thatcher pass into being a cartoon or a character from folklore rather than a real person whose legacy we are still dealing with today. I think, though, that this play would have benefited more by engaging with her legacy more actively: which, as near as I can tell, is a divided Britain where the parts of the country outside of London are being happily allowed to rot while the government claims “freedom” has wiped out the non-home counties’ economies as if they (the government) wasn’t actually capable of creating a different outcome than the crap one we have now.

With the soundtrack moving us from scene to scene, it’s a fairly fast moving show, albeit one that really needs to be watched with a pint of something from downstairs. It was a good pit stop on my path to understanding just what was going on in England in the 1980s; I recommend it for lefties and Morrisey fans alike.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. It continues through Saturday, March 14th.)

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