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Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Thatcher’

I thought Islington only had one claim to fame in modern history – the meeting between Blair and Brown in Granita Restaurant which laid the foundations for the next sixteen years of British politics. It turns out another meeting twenty-two years later, over dinner in Boris Johnson’s home, may have sealed the fate of the recent referendum. Ironic that it took place in what is probably a remain stronghold.

The first half of Jonathan Maitland’s play seeks to re-enact the dinner where the Johnson’s were joined by the Gove’s and Evgeny Lebedev. His date Liz Hurley didn’t show up, apparently. Boris is yet to decide on Leave or Remain, a complex decision concerning his career more than the fate of his party and country. Everyone else is egging him on to go for Leave, though he is visited by three ghosts, two of which – Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill – favour Leave and Tony Blair Remain. Lebedev is too busy name-dropping, including a cheeky moment where the theory that he intervenes in the Evening Standard theatre awards gets promulgated, to have much of an opinion about such a trivial issue. We get a couple of interviews with Huw Edwards bookending this act. The second act leaps forward to 2029. Boris has a new wife and a knighthood, Gove has a new career and Lebedev is still dropping names with wild abandon. We continue to be visited by the three ghosts. To say much more would spoil it, so I won’t.

The first half pulls more punches, the satire is on the light side, but it’s often very funny, it’s superbly performed and it pandered to my prejudices (though not vicious enough for me!) and there’s a coup d’theatre from designer Louie Whitemore that was particularly dramatic from the front row. Will Barton is outstanding as Boris, relying on speech, mannerisms, hair and disheveled clothing rather than physical similarity. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart captures Gove’s obsequious oiliness brilliantly. Steve Nallon almost steals the show as Maggie, but he’s been playing her since Spitting Image, so he’s had a longer rehearsal period. Tim Wallers gets to switch between a newly beardless Lebedev, Blair and Huw Edwards. Annabel Weir is very good as Gove’s wife Sarah Vine and Churchill (!) and Devina Moon plays both Mrs Johnson’s very well indeed.

It’s light entertainment rather than biting satire, but in the 34th month of the shit-storm it proved to be a therapeutic fun night out. If you go in liking the two main protagonists, it probably won’t change anything. If, like me, you think they are self-serving careerists with no interest in their country, or even their party, who history will look back on as two of the biggest post-war political assholes, you’ll walk out feeling just the same!

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Lest you think this play about Margaret Thatcher and The Queen and their ‘audiences’ owes anything to Peter Morgan’s The Audience, perhaps I should begin by telling you that it started life as one of the nine plays in Women Power & Politics more than three years ago here at the Tricycle Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/women-power-politics). It was one of the highlights of that and now it’s a full length premiere league treat.

It covers Thatcher’s whole period in office and there are two Queen’s and two Thatcher’s – ‘younger’, who are mostly ‘in audience’ and ‘older’, who are mostly looking back, commenting and correcting –  with two men playing all of the male roles (plus Nancy Reagan!), fighting over who plays Neil Kinnock. That’s a lot of events and a lot of audiences. It’s a whistle-stop history of the 80’s told through these weekly meetings and it’s hugely entertaining in Indhu Rubasingham’s excellent fast-paced production. It is, of course, largely speculative, yet it comes to the same conclusions as Morgan did – but by focusing on the Queen’s relationship with this one Prime Minister, it’s able to go into much more depth.

The performances are all superb. Stella Gonet & Fenella Woolgar get the public and private Thatcher to a tee and Marion Bailey & Clare Holman do the same with Elizabeth II. The men – Jeff Rawle & Neet Mohan – play 17 roles between them, from footmen to protesters and Michael Hestletine to Kenneth Kaunda, and are allowed to step out of their characters from time to time, which makes for a lot of fun The existence of an audience is occasionally acknowledged as the fourth wall disappears and we’re addressed directly.

Being in an audience of people old enough to have lived through this period made for a superb atmosphere at the performance I attended. This is an enormous pleasure and if it doesn’t get a West End transfer so that many more people can see it, I will be both surprised and disappointed.

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OK, so nine short plays on the history of women in politics (and the ‘testimonies’ of five living politicians) isn’t everyone’s idea of fun on a hot, sunny Saturday in June! Well, helped by the Tricycle’s aircon, it proved to be a theatrical feast I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The Tricycle is the only theatre with the bravery and balls (inappropriate terminology, I know) to stage this. It’s only a year since they did a thrilling whole day history of Afghanistan in the same way and I have to confess I never thought they’d match it – but they have.

The nine plays take us from Elizabeth I to all-women selection lists and the writing, by nine different women playwrights, was even more consistent than The Great Game, with an intriguing and unpredictable selection of subjects and innovative approaches to them. There really wasn’t a dud amongst them, though Sue Townsend’s albeit funny contribution steered furthest from the theme in the cause of her cartoon-like relentless and tired snipes at the New Labour project.

Marie Jones and Rebecca Lenkiewicz gave us fascinating new historical perspectives on the suffragettes and Liz I respectively. Moira Buffini’s take on Thatch & Liz II was clever and funny yet insightful. Lucy Kirkwood reminded us how we’ve virtually eliminated Greenham Common from history. Joy Wilkinson shows us that little has changed between the 1994 and 2010 Labour leadership contests. Zinnie Harris viciously but accurately shows us many men’s attitudes to all-women selection lists. Sam Holcroft stages a very intelligent debate about pornography through a conversation between a successful pornographer and a PM let down by her husband. Bola Agbaje is bang up-to-date with her study of the power of sex. Add to that verbatim contributions from Shirley Williams, Edwina Currie, Oona King,  Jacqui Smith & Anne Widdicombe, and a late addition (?) from Nick Clegg which proves to be the most chilling of all! Well if that doesn’t live up to my ‘theatrical feast’ epithet, I don’t know what does!  

Indira Rubasingham, assisted by Amy Hodge, has given each play a fresh directorial perspective with Handbagged, Bloody Wimmin and Acting Leader getting particularly inventive staging. She’s assembled an excellent ensemble of twelve actors who play up to six roles each, except Lara Rossi who gets to play Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Clare Short and Margaret Beckett’s husband in the same play – a tremendous debut from someone still at LAMDA! It was particularly good to see Kika Markham, Tom Mannion and Stella Gonet again.

If you saw The Great Game, you shouldn’t miss this different but equally exhilarating experience. If you didn’t, suspend disbelief and go see this and you’ll be back for The Great Game when it’s revival follows it. Seeing them all together, it’s an intelligent, relevant and thought-provoking experience – and great entertainment too.  

Yet again, The Tricycle leads the way.

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I remember the promise shown by Jonathan Harvey’s first major play, Beautiful Thing, 17 years ago at the Bush and have always wondered why he never fulfilled it (though he has written a lot of episodes of Coronation Street!). There have been 7 or 8 OK works, but it has taken until now to truly fulfill that promise in the theatre.

SPOILER ALERT – This is the story of a senior policeman who lives a lie until he is outed by his dead son’s friend, now a famous TV personality. Not only has he denied his own sexuality, but also his son’s death from AIDS. Harvey’s real achievement though is to use this story to present us with a surprisingly lucid 50-year gay social history from Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of light to the return of unsafe sex today with Whitehouse, Margaret Thatcher and Norman Fowler as characters!

It takes a while to get into the non-linear structure, but when you do it becomes a compelling ride. The staging is simple but the 8 actors who play all the roles are superbly versatile (Paula Wilcox makes a convincing Thatcher and Philip Voss an appropriately everagesque Mary Whitehouse!).

It reminded me of Angels in America, but less than half the length with as much depth. There’s a roundedness to it which means that when it ends you feel a great sense of satisfaction with both the storytelling and the presentation of the issues.

A real return to form for Harvey and a very rewarding evening of theatre, but why are there empty seats on a Friday night for work of this quality?

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