Handbagged, Moira Buffini's new play currently in preview at the Tricycle Theatre, is certainly a play of broad scope and imagination.
It follows the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher during her time as Prime Minister - a period of 11 years - with her Majesty and Maggie played simultaneously as younger and older women. Clare Holman is the younger Queen, Marion Bailey the older while Fenella Woolgar is the younger Thatcher and Stella Gonet the older. The rest of the characters are picked up by Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle who even fight over some of the parts but more of that later.
Taking on a political figure like Thatcher and, to a certain extent the Queen too, is a bold decision and one fraught with dangers and difficult decisions. Firstly do you nail your colours to the mast on how you view these two women or do you leave it up to the audience to bring their own views and prejudices?
And secondly, with so much history to draw from what do you leave out? It is something that Buffini has tried to address having Mohan raise certain topics that have been missed out or skimmed over sort of like theatrical footnotes. The effect is similar to a play within a play. Mohan and Rawle discuss their and fight over who should be Neil Kinnock using their contractual terms and conditions as ammunition.
The fourth wall is broken, Maggie and the Queen argue about whether there should be an interval or not albeit while staying resolutely in character. They challenge Rawle when he plays 'himself' and gives his personal opinion on a political matter asking 'why does your opinion matter?'.
Some of these devices work really well and some not so and I couldn't decide whether it was a necessary or unnecessary diversion from the main topic. And on that score its interest depends on your knowledge, certainly the most interesting elements of Thatcher's career were the bits I didn't really know about.