York Theatre Royal – until May 11 2019
Reviewed by Marcus Richardson
Handbagged is a comedy about iconic women in Britain, both powerful and strong willed. Following the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II, we watch how the two interacted throughout Thatchers time as Prime Minister. The play finds a balance between telling a political story and making sure the audience are entertained. With two actors playing multiple roles, alongside a younger Thatcher and Elizabeth and an older pair of the two. This works surprisingly well on stage with a fair few jokes coming from it. As I’m sure you can imagine theatre doesn’t usually favour the right-wing of politics however it doesn’t slander Thatcher to make her villainous, which is something I liked about the show, instead she was a stubborn and strong woman, by the end of her time as PM one could even say desperate.
With a cast of six, with the two older versions being played by Sarah Crowden as Thatcher and Susan Penhaligon as the Queen, the two do an incredible job of making sure the characters seemed like their real life counterparts. Crowden really gives truth to the Iron Lady name with a firm and seemingly cold nature. Penhaligon takes on a much cheekier approach to the Queen and ensures that the two older character contrast to create the comedy between them. Most of the time on stage alongside them are their younger characters the younger Thatcher was played by Alice Selwyn and Elizabeth by Caroline Harker. Selwyn was the understudy for this show and I have to say she did a blooming good job, there were certain mannerisms that Thatcher was known for, her always composed demeanour and striking eyes. Harker also gave a good contrast to her fellow lady being much friendlier and down to earth. Both pairs of characters would often interact with each other often reflecting on past experiences. The other two actors on stage were just that actors playing actors often switching between roles and talking about their views on politics. Jahvel Hall plays the younger of the actors, someone who wasn’t alive during Thatchers Britain, providing a commentary on certain events that were skipped during the play. Taking up roles such as Nancy Regan as he is is a suit and skirt and Scottish ministers, a lot of comedy came from Hall which worked well with the four ladies. The other actor Andy Secombe however was alive during the time when Thatcher was in power often expressing his left leaning views, playing characters Ronald Regan and Denis Thatcher, his character worked much like Hall’s and often created comedy by flipping between contrasting characters.
As one would expect watching such a show as Handbagged requires a certain level of sophistication and attention as politics can seem very boring, we are very lucky that the play was funny otherwise I would’ve found myself bored. I can under stand how this appeals to an older audience more than a younger one, which the production is aware of, but as someone who never experienced Thatchers Britain I could appreciate and learn from the show.