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Criterion Theatre
Handbagged (2018)
Written by Moira Buffini
Sat 1st September to Sat 8th September

The monarch and her most powerful subject. One believed there was no such thing as society: the other had vowed to serve it.

Director – Helen Withers
Production Photos
Liz – Christine Evans
Mags – Susie May Lynch
Q – Jean Firth
Actor 1 – Samuel Grant
Actor 2 – Hugh Sorrill
Stage Manager – Nikki Gabriel
Set Designer – Terry Cornwall
Lighting Designer – Sarah Basford
Sound Designer – Paul Forey
Prompter – Jonathan Rees
Wardrobe i/c – Pam Coleman
Wardrobe – Janice Everton
Wardrobe – Liz Stevens
Props – Fran Kendall
Artwork Design – Steph Othen
Props i/c – Les Rahilly
Props – Chris Mavrakis
Wardrobe – Terry Balhatchet
Wardrobe – Louise Robinson
Wardrobe – Judy Sharpe
Click to describe this role ... – TBA
Set Build i/c – Terry Cornwall
Set Build – Lily Barber
Set Build – Jess Cornwall
Set Build – Chris Hernon
Set Build – Jenson Jones
Set Build – Nicola Newman
Set Build – Cormac O'Donovan
Set Build – Terry Rahilly
Set Build – Mike Waterson
Set Build – Mandy Sutton
Set Build – Kevin Woods
Set Painting – Paul Chockran
Set Painting – Judy Talbot
Sound Operation – Lily Barber
Sound Operation – Paul Forey
Lighting Operation – Sarah Basford
Lighting Operation – Ellen Sharkey
Lighting Operation – Karl Stafford
The Play

Directed by Helen Withers 


Moira Buffini’s witty drama opens the clasp on the antipathy between Mrs Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II by imagining the dialogue at the weekly audience given by HMQ to her Prime Minister.  The play reflects on real historical events and is evenly balanced in terms of the stance taken by each woman on particular occasions, though it could be argued that the monarch has the best lines, and that it offers a good illustration of why Mrs T. inspired hatred and admiration in equal measure !


Press Comment


“Moira Buffini's high-spirited and shrewd piece cleverly explores the nature of history – and what might have gone on behind closed doors”  Lyn Gardner, The Guardian


“Moira Buffini’s funny, insightful and beautifully acted play about Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with the Queen . . . . is a fresh, exciting and intelligent piece of theatre that cries out for your support.”  Tim Walker, in the Daily Telegraph.


If you would like any further information about this production please contact the Artistic Director via the email address

REVIEW BY CHRIS ARNOT - Elementary What’s On
They were born within a few months of one another. One was a king’s daughter, the other the cherished offspring of a Grantham grocer.  Nobody really knows what passed between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher during their weekly meetings at the Palace. Apart, that is, from a footman or some other royal servant hovering in the background. And they would never say.  But Moira Buffini’s interpretation of the relationship is not only entertaining but wholly believable. After all, the Sunday Times in 1986 revealed the monarch’s dismay at the “uncaring” nature of her government. Yes, the Sunday Times, owned by one Rupert Murdoch, a trenchant cheer-leader for Thatcherism but not the monarchy.
Murdoch is one of a dizzying array of roles taken on by Hugh Sorill. He starts as a bluffly believable Denis Thatcher before swapping whiskey for wigs to portray, among others, Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe. Not to mention Ronald Reagan and, all too briefly, the Duke of Edinburgh furtively fulminating about “that bloody woman”.
It is the two male actors in Handbagged who do the rushing about, making quick, off-stage changes. The other is Criterion newcomer Sam Grant – charming royal footman one minute, Nancy Reagan the next.
The four female members of cast stay comparatively still -- almost glacially so in the case of Christine Evans who plays the Queen as she was in the ‘80s with an icy distaste for her weekly visitor from Number 10. There are times when you sense that the fingers tightly gripping the straps of her handbag yearn to fasten themselves round the neck of her guest.
Susie May Lynch, another Criterion newcomer, is impressively strident as the Mrs T of the times, assured of her own sense of rightness in all matters.
Elizabeth Brooks plays the older Lady Thatcher, deeper of voice and truculently defensive of her legacy. And Jean Firth is equally believable as the Queen looking back on her meetings with “that woman” about whom “there was nothing remotely funny”.
Handbagged has more than its share of funny lines, however. Enough to offset the static nature of the setting. From the Brixton riots to the poll tax, via the miners’ strike, the play is also a reminder of a decade that changed the UK irrevocably.
Audience members will have differing views about that. But whatever their political leanings, they could hardly fail to be entertained by two women’s contrasting perspectives on this country and its place in the wider world.
REVIEWS BY PETER MCGARRY and BARBARA GOULDEN also available at Elementary What’s On

The era of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership was remarkable for many reasons, and was one that changed Britain for good (or ill). Love her or loathe her, there was no middle ground at the time. In spite of her, “Where there is discord may we bring harmony…” speech on the steps of No. 10 when she first took office, conflict was at the heart of her policies, appeasement an anathema. She took on everyone, from the miners to the universities. Nothing was sacred. The only institution she couldn’t touch was the monarchy. Through it all, riding somewhat aloof from the rough and tumble battles of the day – and they were rough – was the Queen, like a watchful mother, concerned, anxious, an embodiment of values that stood the test of time.

Meetings between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher could not have been congenial. There were huge differences in class and attitude, and each could justly criticise the other for their shortcomings and privileges. So the scene for Mora Buffini’s behind the scenes look at the relationship between these two immensely influential women provides fertile ground of drama.

For me, the most poignant moments came at the end. For all the many very funny jokes and the sharp social and political satire, I found the end of Mrs Thatcher’s reign on stage to be truly moving. It was tragedy in the true theatrical sense: a powerful figure brought low by a single flaw. In her case it was her arrogance, which became more shrill as her time at No. 10 wore on.

Susie May Lynch played her brilliantly. Her portrayal of the younger Mrs T was never less than forceful, but towards the end it took on a kind of madness as her character fought to preserve her position and the principle of no compromise that had become her battle cry. She overreached herself, and like Coriolanus, was brought down by the little people around her - not the people en masse but the rest of the political establishment without which even she could not govern.

There were many in the audience at the Criterion who remembered the Thatcher era, for whom the play had a particular power. It’s a power more akin to Spitting Image, the famous satirical TV show of the time played out by rubber faced puppets, than it is Panorama. It is a series of short-ish sketches following the key events of her premiership and returning again and again to the weekly meetings that are obligatory between the Monarch and her loyal Prime Minister.

Anyone who goes to see Handbagged immediately compares the portrayals of the characters with their recollections of how they were. They must look and sound ‘real’. Key to this is accent. I particularly liked Elizabeth Brooks’s rather matronly Older Mrs Thatcher: her anger had a depth to it that the younger Mrs T’s did not. That isn’t a criticism of the playing, but a reflection of the subjects they portrayed. Susie May Lynch’s Younger Mrs T was often shrill, in a hurry to get on, as indeed she was.

The Queens are sympathetically played by Jean Firth as the Older Monarch and by Christine Evans as the younger. Christines character spends a great deal of time feeling sorry for people, like a Madonna. She was played as someone one might actually like, if one ever got close, whereas Jean Firth's Older Queen had somehow risen above the conflicts and rather enjoyed the opportunities for barbed reflection that her position and longevity granted her.

The men in the play have a lot of work to do, and they do it very well. Actor 1 (Sam Grant) and Actor 2 (Hugh Sorrill) play a number of secondary characters, representing many of the leading figures of the day. There’s a pantomime twist as Actor 1 appears as Nancy Reagan; and Actor 2’s portrayal of Dennis Thatcher combined tenderness for his Iron Lady wife with unswerving loyalty to the cause. One of the funniest, and at another level, moving moments came with their joint portrayal of Neil Kinnock, especially his “I warn you…” speech, delivered on the eve of the 1983 election, in which he prophesied the consequences of inequality that Thatcherism represented. With hindsight we might say that he wasn’t entirely right, that the kinds of inequality he predicted have not quite come to pass, though they are still there in other forms, and there is still time for them to emerge.

'Handbagged' touches the pulse of an era that reverberates with us still.

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