Beginning life as a short play staged during the ThatcherWrite festival in June, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, is an odd, flippant one-acter – which grows into a rather brilliant piece of political make-believe.
The play is set seemingly in a parallel universe in which Maggie steps down from being Britain’s first female prime minister to become a world-leading cabaret act, the show coming ready-studded with camp classics from the likes of the Village People, the Weather Girls and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Played by Matt Tedford in a power suit and pearls, Thatcher recounts the story of how the unexpected transformation from politician to performer came about, a story which hinges on the signing into law of the infamous Section 28. Aided by two ‘wets’, Hessel (Robert Cawsey) and Tine (Ed Yelland), the trio take on a variety of different to roles that includes Jill Knight, Peter Tatchell, Ian McKellen and a rather revelatory – if not quite believable – turn from Winston Churchill.
Tedford is fantastic as the Iron Lady. With impressively coiffed hair, and mimicking that low, stony voice and very distinctive rhythmic delivery, he manages to capture a grotesque of Thatcher that, despite The Telegraph calling it “less than respectful”, is actually warmer and more even-handed than it might have been. It is a triumphant turn with, if you’ll forgive the association, a good deal of balls.
The script itself is very strong, with witty jibes and references to historical events – in the first scene, Maggie, during a bit of banter with the audience, tells someone ‘they look parched’, before delving into her handbag and offering them a pint of milk only to snatch it back. “No,” she says. “It’s not for sharing.”
What really impresses about Queen of Soho, though, is the lightness of tone the production takes. The play is as bitchy as a bag of cats, but there’s heart here too. Characters are wilfully flimsy. When Tatchell comes on, played like a mixture of Ray Winstone and Lord Flashheart, Maggie tells us she’s never actually met him, deciding to just make up what she thinks he’s like rather than do any research.
Essentially a mad romp through the 1980s, the play is basically a hoot from start to finish. Yet apart from this silliness, structurally speaking, the production is as tight as a drum, and under Jon Brittain’s direction, no scene ever feels laboured or misplaced. There is also an interesting dramatic premise at work here, one which explores how characters will come to be defined in the future, and how decisions made – seemingly arbitrary or run-of-the-mill at the time – can drastically alter the perception of a character in the fullness of time.
Largely light and frothy, Queen of Soho is perfect fodder for the Christmas season but, rather like one of Margaret Thatcher’s pearls, it possesses just enough political grit at its centre to make things interesting.