by Moira Buffini.
Tour to 5 December 2015.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 September at Oxford Playhouse.
Arms and the women show character strength more than political fallout.
After its London success, Moira Buffini’s comedy tours England (maybe it could also go to America, as A Parley of Purses). Imagining what might have been said at the decade of private weekly meetings between Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher, the first Prime Minister to be younger than the monarch, and a woman, the piece revisits 1980s Britain and its tensions.
Chief of which here, is that between the monarch and the first of her eight Prime Ministers, we gather, who dared to interrupt her. In a piece which keeps reminding us of its theatrical artificiality, even the interval becomes a contested point between the two. And each woman is played by two actors, one from the age when the meetings took place, the other an older self looking back.
Sometimes the two versions discuss what was or wasn’t said, or what the monarch might have wanted to say. For it tends to be the Queen who considers things, the Prime Minister seeming less prone to reflection.
A large part of the comic impact is made through recognisable details of appearance, movement and speech in the performances by four fine women actors. And they are supported strongly by hairstyles, make-up and vocal work. Every stance, each movement catches the original exactly, while there’s remarkable precision in vocal tones, pace, phrasing and cadences – such as Thatcher’s sudden mid-sentence vehemence when expressing disapprobation.
Indhu Rubasingham’s nifty production and Richard Kent’s skeletal set, suggesting a complex of hollow corridors of power, rightly focus attention on these key performances. The two men on stage have a tougher time, playing characters probably – as the script acknowledges – unknown to younger audience-members, with no time to establish themselves, or (as with Nancy Regan) little to establish if they do hang around. They work efficiently on thin material.
Yet it is in the men’s self-consciousness, arguing with their roles in the play, that most criticism of the Thatcher years arises. Such facts hardly compete with the enjoyable impersonations and, as political times move on, Margaret Thatcher’s significance as the grandmother of current government policy surfaces only by implication.
Q: Susie Blake.
T: Kate Fahy.
Liz: Emma Handy.
Actor 1: Asif Khan.
Mags: Sanchia McCormack.
Actor 2: Richard Teverson.
Director: Indhu Rubasingham.
Designer: Richard Kent.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Voice/Dialect coaches: Majella Hurley, Daniele Lydon.
Hair/Wigs/Make-up: Carole Hancock at Hum Studio.
Associate director: Harry Mackrill.
Assistant director: Jennifer Bakst.
Associate designer: Rachel Stone.
Associate sound: Helen Atkinson.
28 Sep-3 Oct Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
6-10 Oct 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm; Captioned Fri Belgrade Theatre Coventry 024 7655 3055 www.belgrade.co.uk
12-17 Oct 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
19-24 Oct 7.30pm Mat Wed 2pm; Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Nottingham0115 989 5555 www.trch.co.uk
26-31 Oct 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm; Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Newcastle-upon-Tyne 08448 112121 www.theatreroyal.co.uk
2-7 Nov 7.30pm at Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described/BSL Signed Sat 2.30pm; Captioned Thu King’s Theatre Edinburgh 0131 529 6000 www.edtheatres.com
10-14 Nov 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Norwich Theatre Royal 01603 630000 www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
16-21 Nov 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Everyman Theatre Cheltenham 01242 572573 www.everymantheatre.org.uk
23-28 Nov 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Richmond Theatre 0844 871 7651 www.atgtickets.com/richmond-theatre
30 Nov-5 Dec Mon-Wed 7.30pm; Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk