“One had to laugh”
Definitely something of a luxury revisit this one, my third time seeing it. But as Moira Buffini’s Handbagged has grown from a sketch as part of the Tricycle’s 2010 Women, Power and Politics season through to an Olivier-winning full length play which has now transferred into the West End, the chance to see its third incarnation was one I couldn’t resist. Not just seeing it on a larger stage, the one change to the cast from last year’s Tricycle production was what sold it to me.
Lucy Robinson may not be the most recognisable name out there but she played the first Lady Macbeth I ever saw on stage (at the Bolton Octagon) and she also starred in the most amazing schlocky late-night soap called Revelations back in the 90s which I was obsessed with at the time. She replaces Clare Holman as the younger version of the Queen (Liz) who locks horns regularly with Fenella Woolgar’s awesomely impressive Thatcher (Mags), in a hugely entertaining manner.
For they are not alone. Buffini also introduces their older counterparts – Marion Bailey’s Q and Stella Gonet’s T – and the four of them tell and retell history, and how their relationship (or lack thereof) impacted on key events of the time. Their interactions are full of humour and pathos – “’I’d like an interval now please’ ‘We don’t need an interval’” “’She froze me out for weeks over that salute’ ‘Nonsense’ ” – and the often quickfire banter is richly amusing yet balanced with precise care.
Playing with form as well as content means that politics often ends up playing second fiddle to comedy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the two men in the show who take on all of the multifarious supporting roles are brilliantly played by the game Jeff Rawle and Neet Mohan – but it does mean that as Buffini lets us know where her sympathies lies very early on, the positioning of these two uber-powerful women lacks any real subtlety or real investigation.
That is part and parcel of writing about such current figures I imagine, and especially one as inscrutable as Her Majesty, and in all honesty, it doesn’t really matter too much at all whilst watching the play. Its breathless energy is expertly marshalled by Indhu Rubasingham and has swelled marvellously into the larger space which Richard Kent’s design fills well, and the opportunities Handbagged offers to see some of our best acting talent gathered on one stage is one you shouldn’t resist.