Playing Maggie

Pip Utton

Pleasance Courtyard

From 03 August 2016 to 29 August 2016

Rating: ***

Review by David Chadderton

In Pip Utton’s latest one-man show, the title says it all: he—or rather his alter ego, actor Simon Sherwood—is touring the country playing Margaret Thatcher.

As always with Utton’s compact pieces of theatre, it isn’t straightforward; just as with his portrayals of Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill, he manipulates the audience’s expected view of the real person on whom his performance is based. While there are undoubtedly strong opinions on Hitler and Churchill, Thatcher is probably the most divisive of them all, and it is this which he attempts to portray.

He begins showing Sherwood before the performance going through his lines, putting on his costume and reading his fan mail. There is praise for his portrayal both from strong Thatcherites and from those who despise her and everything for which she stood—more than that, they each say his performance has strengthened the views they already held.

Eventually he begins speaking to his audience as Maggie from his cue cards, but stops, deciding that he/she would prefer a conversation with the audience. Mrs Thatcher invites questions from the real audience, which she answers fully, Utton showing an impressive political and historical knowledge and an ability to filter this through his take on Thatcher’s political ideologies, all improvised.

Finally, Sherwood gets to tell his own family story of when the pits closed in his village and how he was happy that his father didn’t have to go down the mine any more but was ostracised for his views and for going off to be an actor.

It’s a brave attempt to portray both sides of strong opinions on Thatcher in a balanced way. The danger of this is that it is too easy to put across a little bit of everything but for it to not add up to much at the end—mathematically, a large positive number added to its equivalent negative number equals zero.

Utton’s clever manipulation of dramatic form to put across the diversity of opinion on his character is clever and he performs it well, but I didn’t feel I’d learned anything that I didn’t know already, nor did it strengthen or make me question my opinions on our former PM.