The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings






NYC Restaurants
New Jersey







Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review

"Where there is discord, may we bring harmony." — Margaret quoting St Francis of Assisi and her first use of the royal "we" at the election victory in 1979
Lucy Robinson as Liz, Marion Bailey as Q, Stella Gonet as T and Fenella Woolgar as Mags (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Moira Buffini's play Handbagged has made the journey from the Tricycle in Kilburn to the West End on the strength of great reviews. The four women who play the young and older versions of Margaret Thatcher and the Queen reprise their roles at the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand. Both these conventionally dressed women were known for being seen in public carrying a medium sized handbag, hence the title of the show.

The play follows the known interactions of the two women, one head of state, the prime minister and the other a constitutional monarch, from the memoirs of Thatcher and others and the political events of the day. Much of what we know about the Queen is derived from gossip as the royal household staff are bound by a code of discretion. .

The play is staged with all four women on stage together. All the male roles fulfilled by just two men, Jeff Rawle principally taking on Dennis Thatcher in a brass button stuffed blazer and Neet Mohan, many other parts starting with a footman but also tackling the Nancy Reagan part.

Much of the political thrust is about the Queen's desire to represent all the people in her Commonwealth, the remainder of the British Empire and Margaret Thatcher's hard line Conservative anti-African, except for white South Africa, stance. They fall out over South African boycotts, with us seeing a conversation that Moira Buffini has written using the 1986 Sunday Times article which claimed to be informed by sources close to the Queen.

Handbagged originated from the 2010 staging of Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle, where a shorter version was staged as one of many playlets, our review. The longer version was delayed when Helen Mirren was announced in The Audience. When that production was seen, it was felt that the plays were entirely different. Yes that is true, The Audience has the Queen with many of her prime ministers in what is principally a serious political play. Handbagged is essentially a comedy based on just the Thatcher : Queen relationship.

Richard Kent's design of almost Rennie Mackintosh white grids coming together struck me as a puzzle until I read in the programme that this was a colour neutralised version of the union jack (more correctly called the union flag) with its overlapping cross of St George, and the saltires of St Andrew and St Patrick. The suits of the women are based on what Mrs Thatcher and the Queen actually wore. We are told in the theatre programme that both women used the same fabric supplier but that while the Queen would allow her staff to chose for her, Margaret Thatcher would personally visit the shop, having it opened early just for her to see the whole range. This stylistic contrast illustrates the approach of the workaholic prime minister, famous for only sleeping three and a half hours a night, with the hard working, conscientious queen.

Of the performances, two are outstanding. Fenella Woolgar as the young anabashed Margaret Thatcher (Mags) has exactly the right, rather strident voice and body language. Marion Bailey as the older version of the Queen is superb, the eyebrows are perfect and, of course, the accurate wigs help both women. Stella Gonet starts well as the older Thatcher but her performance pales somewhat and I never felt that the young queen, Liz (Lucy Robinson) convinced. The two men work very hard and frequently break the fourth wall, that invisible wall between the play and the audience by commenting on the demands of their roles or arguing about who they will play.

We see both the rise, and the fall of Thatcher when her own party challenge her. Inspired by her greengrocer father, she says, curiously for the first woman prime minister, "After I turned 15 I had nothing to say to my mother." The Queen is portrayed here as hugely witty and Maggie has no sense of humour. She was famously called "Attila the Hen" by Labour politician Denis Healey.

Handbagged is a light comedy, but for me, too much of the material is duplicated from the production of The Audience go here. The overlapping material is because so little is on record of the Queen's views, but if you haven't seen The Audience, this is of no consequence.

Written by Moira Buffini
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Starring: Stella Gonet, Marian Bailey, Neet Mohan, Jeff Rawle, Lucy Robinson, Fenella Woolgar
Designer: Richard Kent
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4663
Booking to 2nd August 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th April 2014 performance at the Vaudeville Theatre, The Strand, London WC2R 0NH (Rail/Tube:Charing Cross)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Handbagged
  • I disagree with the review of Handbagged
  • The review made me eager to see Handbagged
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from