Posts Tagged ‘Handbagged’

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

March 12, 2015

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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Review – Handbagged – Vaudeville Theater

June 3, 2014

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Handbagged, the play about Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth, other than it looked to be a two hander (wrong!) and funny. So when I was contacted with a request for blogger feedback from a publicist, I was pretty pleased – things have been a bit grim in Webcowgirl-land the last three weeks and I was in dire need of a good laugh. I mean, I had no idea why the thought of these two women was supposed to be humorous (although “So Maggie Thatcher and Queen Liz walk into a bar” does makes me giggle) or even under what circumstances they would have come into contact (it was based on actual events? – shock!), so there was a leap of faith involved. I’ve done the Life in the UK test but Handbagged assumed a level of knowledge beyond what I, not born English, possessed.

So, factual basis: not only does the PM go to the queen and ask for “permission to form a government” after the election, but apparently the traditionally have some kind of weekly catchup as well. Now, I’d been a tiny bit exposed to this from seeing The Queen, but this is all from the post-Thatcher era and I wasn’t entirely sure how much the interaction of the queen and the PM as depicted in this movie represented reality at all. That said: how much does anything that happens in the palace represent reality? It seems as likely a topic for comedy and satire as any; theatrically, King Charles showed there’s much to be explored in the workings of a monarch in modern times (as opposed to the rather more active workings of historical times).

The play itself is a story told on two sides, that of the queen and of Thatcher; but it’s also told from two points in time, that of the near-present (maybe five years ago), with a gray-haired monarch and “elder statesman” Thatcher, and their “actual” selves at the time of the events. Their older selves correct their younger selves’ mistakes and laugh (or harrumph) at their stupidity – and by “their” I mean of both of their younger selves. I found the imagined evolution of each of their perceptions very interesting – how the queen had grown, perhaps, more disillusioned; and how Thatcher grew, I think, more rigid – and in some ways simply failed to evolve at all, parroting exactly the same things at her height as she does in her retirement.

Fleshing all of this out are two other characters, originally a butler in the palace and Thatcher’s husband (I’d never heard of him before), who wind up playing many varied roles: Ronald and Nancy Reagan, President Kaunda of Zambia, and, well, themselves, as actors with opinions. These two do a lot to fill in the gaps in my historical knowledge of the times – although addressed at the “young folks in the audience who weren’t even alive at this time,” it was helpful to me as a person who, while born, wasn’t really reading international news.

In the end, I feel like I was both educated and entertained, although the whole thing was done with such a light touch that I never felt lectured to. And look: a play in which there are four roles for women in their fifties or older! Really, the only thing I needed to make this night perfect was a cream tea at the interval: it was a very enjoyable night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thurday, May 29th, 2014. It continues through August 2nd, 2014. As I researched this, I found more an more that the events that took place outside of “the audience” all really seem to have happened – i.e. per this article – which makes me enjoy the play even more.)