This article is the first in a new series called The Lowdown, where we speak to writers, directors and actors to get the lowdown on their latest creative project
And they say that life imitates art… Handbagged, a show featuring fictional accounts about the Queen’s weekly meetings with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had always planned to open this month.
What writer Moira Buffini hadn’t planned for though was for Liz Truss to be promoted to The Top Job, a woman who says she styled herself on Thatcher. That seemed unbelievable timing – but that was before the Queen died, forcing this show to cancel its early previews while as the cast and crew presumably worked out what on earth to do.
But it was decided that the show would go on, and early previews have begun. Tickets are on sale until 22 October, but in the meantime, we chat to Handbagged writer Moira Buffini about her inspiration for this most unusual of comic shows.
WHAT’S THE LOWDOWN ON YOUR SHOW HANDBAGGED? It’s about Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth II. I wouldn’t call it a comedy because the subject matter is so serious – but it’s bloody funny. There was a natural antipathy between them which I found complex, humorous and fascinating.
WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM? Handbagged started life as part of the Tricycle Theatre’s Women, Power and Politics season in 2010. I knew I wanted to write about Thatcher – but she famously surrounded herself with men. The only other powerful woman she met on a regular basis was the Queen. As soon as I began researching I knew this was a relationship I wanted to explore.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT OPENING NIGHT? I’m excited for the cast and company. They are so terrific, they really deserve to be seen.
DID YOU DISCOVER ANY SECRETS ABOUT MAGGIE WHEN RESEARCHING FOR THE SHOW? I was told many anecdotes about Mrs Thatcher and one or two about the Queen. They gave me a vivid sense of their personalities but it didn’t feel right to use them. I felt it was important to stick to documented facts, so I only used information available to the general public. I read everything I could find and watched hours and hours of footage. The Queen’s meetings with her Prime Ministers are entirely private, so a lot of the play is imagined situations, although I use their own words as often as I can.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THE WRITING PROCESS? I am not a monarchist and I loathed Thatcher when I was growing up. But I learned that you have to honour real people when you’re portraying them in drama. Partisan versions quickly become cartoonish and less interesting.
Handbagged, Kiln Theatre runs until 22 October; buy tickets online