REVIEW – Clash of cultures between monarch and minister in Birmingham Crescent’s Handbagged is enthralling to watch

THERE  is an improvisation exercise used in drama classes called ‘Mirrors’ where actors, working in pairs, mirror image their partners every gesture and movement. The next stage – once harmony in movement is reached – is to add dialogue in turns, with the objective of two people playing one character.

I was reminded of this last night in the Crescent Theatre company production of Moira Buffini’s ‘Handbagged’  in the Ron Barber studio where the cast comprise two Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers and two Queen Elizabeth II’s. Director Claire Armstrong Mills has drilled her women to ‘mirroring’ perfection.

The ‘Thatchers’ comprise Angela Daniels as  ’T’ – the older Maggie in stiff, strained and stilted vocal and physical harmony with Isabel Swift as Maggie the younger. This is not parody or caricature – it is acting physicalisation at its finest – two people: one person.

Mills’s approach to the ‘Queens’ is different in that she has allowed more individuality and physical divergence between Maura Judges as a senior, reflective, calmer Queen and Annie Swift as the younger, inquisitive Liz. What they both share is an ever present sense of duty tempered with freedom of spirit.

The other characters are a clever device by the playwright to bring in two multi-tasking chaps who announce in an aside to the audience that they are jobbing actors in it for the money.

Niall Higgins and Toby Davis positively revel in playing everything from flunkies of the royal household to politicians of all shapes, sizes and political colours.

The play’s cleverness is in its story telling of the Thatcher years without being judgmental  – meaning whatever side you are on in that period of political history, there is little here to make you change your views or get hot under the collar about.

The focus is on the supposed clash of culture between Monarch and Minister – all supposition of course, as what goes in those weekly meetings is like the golfing adage “what goes on tour stays on tour”

It’s marvellous to wallow in handbag-jousting and diplomacy though and it all makes for another great night of theatre in this high quality studio season from the Crescent.

There is not a weak link here – the company has worked in concord with their director and each other. Whilst individual performances are all top-notch outings, for me Annie Swift is extraordinary – her Liz ranks alongside the big names that have played her in ‘The Crown’.

Handbagged runs at The Crescent until Saturday, June 4. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

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