Since Margaret Thatcher‘s death in 2013, there has been a resurgence in all things from that lamentable era, although another critic has stated dramas about her are “well-ploughed territory”.
The focus here is not so much on the Prime Minster of the time, but that of Geoffrey Howe, who, over a ten year period, had the many roles of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and his brief time as Deputy Prime Minister. The play is very favourable of him and justifies his disdain for Thatcher towards the end, in his resignation speech. Many speculate his words on that day are what triggered Thatcher to resign some three weeks later. She had lost her right-hand man, who was always painted as uncharismatic, though got the job done.
Politics is not always exciting, or even sexy. Jonathan Maitland has justified Howe’s retaliation, with a play as good as it could be about the subject matter. There are amusing moments, there are tense moments, but whether the work exceeds more than this is debatable. Maitland’s hindsight of today is mirrored with the important talks of Europe even then, as Brexit is high up the mountain. Most of the funny moments come either from Howe’s wife, Elspeth, the ensemble of players or that of Thatcher.
In the role that he was always born to play, Steve Nallon is an uncanny Thatcher. With his portrayal of her going all the way back to the puppet parody show Spitting Image, he has her down to a tee, in voice, gait and appearance. The performance is of worth, though it can feel like only a caricature at times. In other moments, as if by magic, the real Thatcher is on the stage. He simply plays a woman very well and will always be remembered for that remarkable take on Thatcher.
As Howe, Paul Bradley takes on the role with much care and understanding. His slightly downtrodden nature caused by both the Prime Minister and his wife bubble up into his final speech, the only bit of worth in the second part of the show. It must be quite a feat to play a politician who lacked in charisma, though the audience is on his side. His standing up to Thatcher causes him calamity, though he was only justifying his concerns and there were plenty of wolves at the Prime Minister’s door anyway.
Carole Royle, as Elspeth, is a rousing, radical feminist (certainly not by today’s standards) and is the other side of Geoffrey’s coin, both spiritual and politically. Talk of her hand in his final speech is undeniable, though the courage it took him to say it on national TV (first time in the House of Commons as well) is a turn away from his expected character traits. He proved everyone wrong and delivered a mighty blow, which has been rarely seen in British politics since.
Rating: 3 stars
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An extended performance of Satie’s Vexations take place around Cardiff starting in October till new year, as a fundraiser for OCD UK, with such venues as Cardiff University School of Music, Porter’s Bar and the YMCA. Look for the #CardiffVexations on social media.
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