Thatcher the Musical

Foursight Theatre in association with Warwick Arts Centre
Warwick Arts Centre
(2006)

In these days of political theatre, with everyone and everything that's in the news coming in for satirical treatment, it's amazing that up to now no one's brought to the stage the story of Margaret Hilda Thatcher. She was one of the most influential characters of the 20th century and was responsible for some of the most radical social changes this nation has ever experienced.

There are few people today who don't recognise Mrs Thatcher as either one of the greatest leaders ever to step inside 10 Downing Street or the woman who wrecked civilised society as we know it. Some people look on her with affection, others with loathing. All the more strange, then, that her life and times hadn't been turned into theatre.

Step forward Wolverhampton-based women's company Foursight Theatre whose past productions include Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry, Hitler's Women and Frankenstein's Mothers. Their idea wasn't to praise or malign Maggie - it was to let the Iron Lady tell her own story, exploring the concept of power and how it impacts on everyone around her.

The result is Thatcher The Musical. It's a delightful evening's entertainment, whatever your political colour. It'll probably make you happier than a Liberal Democrat at a Scottish by-election.

The production is full of surprises right from the beginning. A huge handbag is pushed onto the stage and opens up to reveal Maggie sitting inside it. This is Narrator Maggie, played affectionately by Sarah Thom who remains onstage almost throughout. She gives a plausible performance of Maggie as an octogenarian, slightly unsteady on her feet but still showing the battling qualities for which Mrs Thatcher is best known.

The evening is a romp through the best bits of Maggie's long life, with nine actors playing the Grantham grocer's daughter at salient points in her development before all of them appear on stage as Mrs T for the finale.

It's admittedly difficult to condense eighty years into a couple of hours but Foursight seem to have done a reasonable job. It's a slick, vibrant, funny offering with an irresistible charm.

This is no Jerry Springer - the Opera; Thatcher the Musical has the feeling of a low-budget production yet that adds to its appeal. Apart from the handbag, there's a basic set with an elevated door to Number Ten taking up a strategic central position and little else, although Mary Keith's organ at one point spins around to become a tank.

There are minimal props but that doesn't pose a problem for the Foursight actors who specialise in physical theatre. They adopt different facial expressions and add a pair of glasses to turn into different characters.

Highlights of the show are MPs on opposing sides in the House of Commons being portrayed as dogs baying at one another; the Maggie who belts out a punk rock song in the style of Johnny Rotten; and the troubled times of Maggie's leadership which are represented by a storm at sea as the Cabinet are attacked by unemployment, inflation, recession and unpopularity.

The only problem with Thatcher the Musical is that it's not sure what it is; there aren't many songs for it to be authentically described as a musical yet there's too much music for it to be a play.

None of the songs is particularly memorable, although you'll find yourself leaving the auditorium and humming the last song in which all the Maggies hauntingly sing "I'm in your DNA."

If you want to see Thatcher the Musical, you'll have to wait until the autumn when Foursight take it on tour.

When I saw it on press night at Warwick Arts Centre, sections of the audience gave it a standing ovation. And I'll bet some of them were socialists.

Reviewer: Steve Orme