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The long-planned production was scheduled to open the day after the Queen’s death. Rather than cancel performances, the decision was taken to press ahead, with a minute’s silence before each one during the mourning period – and rightly so. First staged in 2013, the play is “no hagiography”, but it is imbued with admiration for the monarch’s “diligence” and warmth; and I was both “transfixed and moved” by the evening.
In a “deft flight of fancy”, Handbagged features the Queen and Mrs Thatcher both as they were in the 1980s, and as their older selves reflecting back, said Clive Davis in The Times. The Queen is presented as a “unifying figure in an era of profound upheaval”, while Mrs T is a “tone-deaf” and uncaring right-winger. It is an “unashamedly partisan piece of storytelling”, but “it’s also very funny”.
There are “genuinely affecting” performances from Marion Bailey as the older Queen and Abigail Cruttenden as the younger. As the 1980s Thatcher, Naomi Frederick seems on the young side, but she “channels” the Iron Lady’s personality “admirably, while Kate Fahy gives us an eerily accurate impersonation of the older, bruised leader”.
Equally good are Romayne Andrews and Richard Cant, who play multiple supporting roles – from Michael Heseltine to Nancy Reagan, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. Indeed, the “most chilling and exhilarating” moment comes during Neil Kinnock’s “I warn you…” speech before Thatcher’s 1983 re-election.
Buffini’s Queen is “arguably too much of a liberal fantasy and her Thatcher too much of a Gorgon”, said Nick Curtis in the London Evening Standard. But in this moment, “neither of these exaggerations feels like a capital offence”. This is a “delightful” revival of a “smart, sharp play”, and one that is “more timely than it was ever meant to be”.
Kiln Theatre, London NW6. Until 29 October. Running time: 2hrs 15mins