Lyndhurst Drama & Musical Society    Vernon Theatre, Lyndhurst  Anne Waggott 27 July  2023

There is a big challenge when portraying well known, real-life people on stage in a fictional play – if you haven’t actually come across these people yourself, you’re likely to have seen an interpretation of them somewhere along the line, and so have preconceived ideas of what they should be like. For the actors who portray them, there is then an additional challenge in making the role their own whilst still capturing all the nuances and peculiarities of the original – especially when they are two of Britain’s most recognised women of the 20th century: Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman and longest continuing serving Prime Minister!

Handbagged is a satire of the weekly meetings between Her Majesty and The Iron Lady, with flashbacks to the actual encounters and recollections of the two women in later years. Of course, as the authentic meetings were in private and strictly confidential between them, there is a large amount of salt to be taken with the play. Indeed, as the characters observe on more than one occasion, “I never said that…” or “That was never said…” And therein lies the humour of Handbagged, along with the two male actors portraying 17 characters between them!

Stevie Parker is exceptional as Q (an ‘older’ Queen Elizabeth II), with magnificent characterisation and aptitude for comedy, whether verbally, visually, or pure comic timing. Her asides to the other actors or directly to the audience (as well as her desire for an interval!) were simply brilliant.

Amy Godfrey-Arkle as Mags (a ‘younger’ Margaret) is almost the embodiment of the public Thatcher in her heyday, perfecting her mannerisms and voice, and with the most wonderfully expressive face, capturing Thatcher’s haughty disdain, confusion, rare vulnerability, and defiance.

Both Sarah Short (as T, an ‘older’ Margaret Thatcher) and Hannah Rogers (as Liz, a ‘younger’ Queen Elizabeth) capture the essence and voice of their alter egos, while Jack Barnett (Actor 1) and Michael Watson (Actor 2) embrace their multiple roles with gusto. Some of the accents may be humorously inconsistent and a little all over the place, but those of both Queens and Prime Ministers are spot on, particularly from Parker and Godfrey-Arkle.

Director Michele Arkle has done a great job of bringing everything together, ensuring essentially sharp pace and eliciting every ounce of comedy from the material available. It’s not as easy as it may seem to break the fourth wall effectively, but for the most part, all six actors achieved this successfully. However, there were still some opening night nerves and stumbles, where interjections from the prompt stalled the slick pace essential for farce and satire, and if an actor must read their lines from props, then it would be better to make a feature of this, rather than hope the audience doesn’t notice. The wigs deserve a cast rather than production credit of their own, as they are (rightly) used for comic more than aesthetically pleasing effect; the only time I found this visual humour grating was for Gerry Adams, coming at a time in the play when there was genuine poignancy.

Having said that, though, this is a production well worth seeing and I laughed aloud along with others on a number of occasions! Although the play and recalled topics may not be to everyone’s taste, and actually reminded me how much my personal deep dislike and mistrust of party politics were imbedded during my seminal years, Lyndhurst Drama & Musical Society have grasped the parody of Handbagged and run with it to very amusing effect.

Handbagged runs until Saturday 29 July at 7:45pm each evening.