Handbagged Review

by Birmingham & District Theatre Guild

Highbury Players

Handbagged– February 2022
By Moira Buffini

Directed By Rob Phillips

The play depicts the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher during the years when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and it covers many of the central episodes of that period. Their younger selves are also on stage and the two men play ‘footmen’ and eight other characters.

There are elements of bold comedy and some caricature but also moments of pathos in reaction to the death of Mountbatten and the Grand hotel bombing.

This is a fairly new play that originated in 2010. It is quite a lengthy with equal first and second acts. An ensemble piece consisting of six actors with all having sizable parts and significant roles.

The curtain opened to reveal an interesting circular stage at two different levels, accessed via steps to the left and right. The centre of the stage was rightly reserved for the all-important table and chairs. Three screens on the back wall displayed the union Jack and as the play progressed, visual time references such as news stories or one key word.

The set remained the same during the whole performance and the actors moved around the whole of it, even making an entrance via the audience to launch the show post interval. The props were sufficient for what was needed but maybe the butler could have actually poured a real tea, rather than just adding sugar.

The lighting of the piece was quick and sharp to indicate time changes. The audience reacted with surprise to the bomb sequence and overall the technical side of the production was executed well. Costumes were well judged, with excellent wigs and makeup where required.

The ensemble cast were superb with no weak link: It’s questionable which is harder, to play one character and maintain it throughout, such as Pip Olliver, Denise Phillips, Carol Deakin or Maura Judges OR eight different quick fire characters such as Paul Steventon-Marks and Ken Agnew.

Directed by Rob Phillips, despite the odd prompt, the pace never faltered, the cast were well-balanced and extremely competent. The technical team worked tremendously hard throughout the night due to the many sound and lighting queues. All in all this was a very interesting night out, oddly the second show this season at Highbury Players to feature The Queen. Personally, I enjoyed them both.