Eleanor Lloyd Productions, Tricycle London Productions, and the touring Partnership
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Beginning life as a short one-act play as part of the Tricycle's 2010 project Women, Power and Politics, Buffini, a few years later, expanded it to full-length and it premiered at the tiny Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn in 2013, a year later transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End. Now touring, it seems that the word has gone round that this is a play well worth seeing and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre last night was packed to capacity.
The audience were not disappointed. This speculation of the relationship between the Queen and her prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the conversations and arguments which might have occurred during their weekly meetings is brilliantly funny, intelligent, clever, witty and overall great theatre.
Buffini has provided two Queens and two Thatchers, the elder of each looking back at their younger selves, the history of the period and how they had dealt with it. Discussions sometimes become arguments about the accuracy of their memories. “I never said there was no such thing as society” objects T. “Yes you did” responds Q “It was in Woman’s Own”. No arguing with that then.
T with “so much to do” wants to crack on with the business in hand, but Q, who believes that an interval is often the best part of a night at the theatre, announces one—and that is that!
Covering the years that T was Prime Minister, this could have become a history lesson but it never forgets it is a play and often breaks the fourth wall to confide in the audience, amusing when Q, who has a great sense of humour herself, complains that it is lacking in Thatcher and she often ‘tuned out’ of the conversation.
Asif Khan and Richard Teverson, as Actor 1 and Actor 2, take on the role of almost every other character of the period from footman to the Duke of Edinburgh, taking in, among others, Denis Thatcher, Peter Carrington, Kaunda and Ronald Reagan accompanied by a reluctant Khan as Nancy. Their argument about who will play Tony Blair is resolved by both giving their all to his “I warn you” speech and trying to outdo each other.
Requested by Q to explain historical facts to “the young people in the audience”, these include many which are certainly not fun and games bringing deep anguish to the Queen remembering the murder of Lord Mountbatten and a fighting spirit to Thatcher, immaculately attired when emerging from the rubble which was the Grand Hotel in Brighton.
The Falklands War and the miners’ strike are discussed too, although not in great detail and director Indhu Rubasingham keeps a perfect delicate balance between pathos and jokiness switching smoothly from one to the other.
Susie Blake is amazing as the Queen, perfectly capturing not only the voice but expressions, mannerisms and stance, and some of her sideways ‘grumpy’ expressions speak volumes. Kate Fahy is also excellent as T, ready to take on the world and put it right, but beginning to show slight insecurity and vulnerability when her party are turning against her.
Emma Handy and Sanchia McCormack are equally adept being the younger Liz and Mags, their differences comically brought to the fore at a moorland picnic.
Brilliantly clever, at times sorrowful and at others hilariously comical, I would recommend it to anyone but the Queen insists, as she addresses the audience, “whatever we say must stay within these three walls.” So I’ll say no more!
Reviewer: Sheila Connor