Don’t you wonder what’s in Queen Elizabeth’s omnipresent handbag? A lipstick and a hankie, I imagine. I mean, she doesn’t need the basic $20, a credit card, keys, and a phone that commoners carry.
This entertaining play, Handbagged, is veddy veddy English, although it has been tailored to an American audience to catch us up on the events in Britain when Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, was Prime Minister. If you have binge-watched The Crown, this will be right up your street. And if you’ve been following the chaotic Brexit news from the UK, ditto.
Tradition has it that the PM meets once a week with the reigning monarch. Helen Mirren’s wondrous performance in The Audience provided a fascinating preamble to Handbagged, written with wit and political indignation by Moira Buffini, with a theatrical wink to us with lines like, “What we say must stay within these three walls.” Indhu Rubasingham directs with Tory-bashing relish.
There are two Queens and two Prime Ministers, young and old. The young Liz (Beth Hylton) and the young Mags (Susan Lynskey) share the stage with the mature versions of themselves, Q (Anita Carey) and T. (Kate Fahy). Two actors (John Lescault and Cody Leroy Wilson) fill in all the other crucial roles, including Ronald Reagan (Thatcher’s close friend and ally: “a visionary and gorgeous”) and wife Nancy, Rupert Murdoch, a street protestor, and a variety of figures whose positions we recognize even as we might not recognize their names.
We follow the years filled with the dissolution of the Empire (Rhodesia to Zimbabwe), the Falklands debacle, the Diana wedding, the South Africa fail, the American bombing of Libya from British bases, the miners strike, and so on. In each case, the Queen is the kinder, more tolerant voice, outraged at the Conservative attitudes of the PM. When he says, “The working class is the shirking class,” Thatcher in turn points out that for all the Queen’s sympathy with that working class, she forgets she is the richest woman in the world, a woman who thinks the decommissioning of the royal yacht is a national tragedy.
The gap between nationalism and globalism is very much on the present mind, both in the United States and the UK, and very little is needed to cry out, “Relevance!” There was dancing in the streets when Thatcher stepped down after 11 years.
The cast is excellent, with the two all-purpose actors whooping it up as they gamely switch from Scottish to Australian to American to posh English accents. Outstanding is Lynskey, whose manner as the young Thatcher is fabulously supercilious, and who can make a meal of the word constituency.
The set — two white chairs in opposite corners and a silver tea service (designed by Richard Kent, who designed the costumes as well) — is tickety-boo.