Undoubtably one of the theatrical highlights of the past year was Handbagged, Moira Buffin’s latest play tells the tales of the Queen’s weekly meetings with Margaret Thatcher. Premiering at the Tricycle Theatre in October 2013, the sold out run won an Olivier Award and transferred to the West End. It was commissioned by the Tricycles new artistic director Indu Rubasingham.
The play arrived at the Vaudeville Theatre with the cast more or less in tact; only Clare Holman was substituted as the younger monarch by Lucy Robinson. As the slogan stated “Liz. Maggie. Tea at four. Handbags at dawn.”
Two enduring icons of the 20th Century, born six months apart – what did the world’s most powerful women talk about? It’s a shrews piece that cleverly explores what might have gone on behind closed doors.
The play’s runaway success, and unanimous critical acclaim, depended in large on the brilliant performances of its four actresses who play older and younger versions of the two leaders. Marion Bailey is the older monarch sitting in judgement of her younger self, and the older Maggie played by Stella Gonet looks back on the woman that she was in office “embodied with all her mannerisms down to a T” by Fenella Woolgar. As The Telegraph’s Tim Walker stated in his five star review, “only a director of Indhu Rubasingham’s sensitivity could cope with the gear changes that shift the action form slapstick to moments of unbearable pathos.”
All four kindly singed my sketch in the final week, as the play completed its Vaudeville run on Saturday 2 August.
In 2006 Dame Helen Mirren won 29 major awards for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen, including the Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA Awards for Best Actress.
In April this year she once again reprised the role for the stage production of Peter Morgan’s (who also wrote The Queen) world premiere of The Audience at the Gielgud in Shaftesbury Ave.
For the last sixty one years, the Queen has met with 12 Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace. Both parties have an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is said… not even to their spouces. The Audience breaks that code of silence and imagines a series of pivotal meetings, charting an arc through the second Elizabethan Age. Prime Ministers come and go through the revolving door of politics, while she remains constant.
The Audience opened to critical acclaim, and is nominated for five Laurence Olivier Awards, including a Best Actress nod for Dame Helen.
She is always very accommodating with autograph requests. If she doesn’t sign in person, the stage-door manager takes material to her. My programme was signed when she was leaving after an evening performance, but I left the sketch at the theatre. When time is limited and there are gazillions of graphs to do, she has abbreviate to ‘H. Mirren” so I was please to get a full signature and the customary wavy underline. I wonder if Elizabeth R will take in the play, after all she and Philip did go to War Horse and did invite Dame Helen to dinner at the Palace in May 2007.