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A CurtainUp Review
The Iron Lady. The Queen. Born six months apart, each woman had a destiny that would change the world. But when the stiff upper lip softened and the gloves came off, which one had the upper hand? — Press release.

I had worked so hard for my achievements. Her Majesty's were birth-rights. — PM Thatcher

I have to accept that here I am and this is my fate. — Queen

Fate has nothing to do with me. It is all discipline and enterprise. — PM Thatcher
L­R: Kate Fahy, Susan Lynskey (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
You'd expect that the weekly tea-cake meetings between British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II would be cordial. That they were, even if only on the surface. Playwright Moira Buffini's deliciously smart Round House Theatre production, Handbagged, at 59E59 Theaters, is like eavesdropping over 11 years of conversations through the eyes, ears and memories of the older and younger versions of two world-reknown ladies.

Always private— no secretaries, no notes— the play is more imagination than fact. But Buffini's imagination is sharp, intermingling historical memories with wry humor; and director Indhu Rubasingham keeps the flow of political confab smart and lively. The brisk show divulges hints of resentment, grudging admiration, wit and whimsey and tinges of sarcasm.

As the younger version of the Queen, Beth Hylton, shows a poised self-confidence and more knowledge than many might expect. Anita Carey plays the elderly Queen with immaculate timing, commenting on her personal opinions, remembering about Thatcher, "The way she said ‘your Majesty' grated. Why couldn't she just call me Ma'am?"

Susan Lynskey plays the younger Margaret Thatcher who served as Britain's first Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. As leader of the Conservative Party she was a relentless and uncompromising, tacklingunemployment, a miners' strike, apartheid in South Africa, the IRA, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Thatcher was proud of her "Iron Lady" image. Her tough presence was symbolized by her favorite accessory, the handbag (adefined by the Oxford Dictionary as a forceful verbal attack upon a person or idea).

As the older, still complex Thatcher, Kate Fahey, head held high, remains commandinga — contained and fiercely loyal to the institute of the Monarchy despite basic disagreasements in which Thatcher voices her belief with "Socialism is inimical to freedom. The left wing slide we have been on leads inexorably to poverty and human bondage." The Queen responds to this with "I'm not a proponent, Prime Minister, but isn't the purpose of social-ism to bring people out of poverty?" — upon which the Prime Minister turns sarcastically to the audience and exclaims "How wonderful to enter into discourse with her."

Two men, Cody Leroy Wilson and John Lescault (Actor 2) take on eclectic cameo roles echoing the era, filling in the historical years. Both provide laughs and round out the images of the two women.

Thatcher was always aware of how acute class differences would her and the Queen from being close. While both grew up strongly influenced by their fathers, she was a shop-keeper's daughter and Elizabeth, a royal princess. A hilarious segment recalls Thatcher's visit to Balmoral where she mocked the casual picnic prepared and served by the Royals. For Thatcher, it was totally inappropriate. She kept jumping up to help until Prince Phillip snapped, "Someone tell that bloody woman to sit down." Thatcher herself later declared: “It was more stressful than a NATO summit.”

Far more pleasant for Thatcher were her meetings with Ronald Reagan. Susan Lynskey neatly portrays Thatcher's strength and determination, but turns to fluttery girlishness when Ronald Reagan (played by Lescault) arrives on the scene. She is almost overboard ga-ga in the presence of Ronny, despite the demanding presence of clinging Nancy, played by Wilson.

Richard Kent has set the stage in stark white, effectively brightened by Jesse Belsy's lighting design. Kent also designed the bright power suits for the "Thatcher Loo" and prim earthtoned suits for Her Majesty. Handbags, of course, for both. Thatcher is afforded a well-sprayed hairdo among the period wigs by Kiln Theatre, and hair scarfs give the Queen a casual look when she riding or running with her dogs..

Bookending the play is the word, "No." In her opening speech, Thatcher states, "I will not collude, collaborate, negotiate. I will not compromise... I would be proud if this word defined me, NO."

In the final scene, standing together after the passing of Ronald Reagan, the elderly Queen offers a chair to grieving Thatcher, "Won't you sit down?" After a pause, the "Iron Lady" replies, "No."

Handbagged is an entertaining view of two fascinating, influential women, who, near the end, remain standing, still on the world scene, holding their handbags.

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Handbagged Book: Moira Buffin
Director: Indhu Rubasingham
Associate Director: Jennifer Bakst
Cast: Anita Carey, Kate Fahy, Beth Hylton, John Lescault, Susan Lynskey, and Cody LeRoy Wilson
Set and Costume Design: Richard Kent
Associate Set and Costume Design: Rachel Stone
Lighting Design: Jesse Belsky
Sound Design: Carolyn Downing
Associate Sound Design: Justin Schmitz
Production Stage Manager: Che Ernsman
Dramaturg: Gabrielle Hoyt
Produced: Round House Theatre for Brits on Broadway Running Time: Two hours. One intermission.
Theatre: 59E59 Theaters. (A) . 59 East 59 St. bet. Park and Madison. NYC
Tickets: Tickets $25-$70. $49 for 59E59 members. Box office 646-892-7999. Visit
Performances: Tues-Fri at 7pm, Sat at 2pm and 7pm, Sun at 2pm
Preview: 6/4/19. Opens: 6/12/19. Closes: 6/30/19.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 06/8/19

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