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Thank you for inviting me to your production of Handbagged. I was delighted to be able to attend. I was very much looking forward to seeing this production and I was not disappointed.
Choice of Play:What a wonderfully clever play! I can totally understand why you chose it. For those of us who remember the Thatcher years, or as some describe it, reign, this is the most brilliant satirical snapshot of her time in office and ensuing relationship with The Queen. I wonder if you chose it knowing that you could cast it or hoping that you would be able to do justice to those characters with the members you had. Whatever, it completely worked.
Production: This was a very stylized production, almost choreographed with characters moving round the stage to their appointed positions as if in a ballet or Scottish reel! It all worked extremely well.
Continuity: The play galloped along, it needed to, a less able cast could have made this rather turgid. There were a couple of prompts (well certainly one) and although I understand the problems of prompting, having done it myself, it was loud, I jumped and looked to see if a new character had made an entrance. It is the most thankless task doing continuity. You are damned for being too loud, too quiet, coming in unrequired; the skill is to know where the sticky bits are and if you have attended enough rehearsals you will and be prepared.
Director: Cathy Naylor directed and what a great job you did. I know you had an experienced cast but even those of us who consider ourselves to be “old hands” prefer to be well and truly directed, and they were. You had the cast moving in and out and around and behind each other on and off, sorry orf, the chairs like clockwork, each taking their turn to be seated. I’m sorry to repeat myself after Pygmalion but it was all so seamlessly effortless. This was another consummate piece of directing. It was very clear that each member of the cast had made a study of their particular character. They needed to for it to be in the slightest bit funny or approachable. As you say in the programme you wanted the Queen and Thatcher to retain their humanity and all characters to sufficiently suggest their characters rather than be Spitting Image impressions. They all did, but more of that later.
Principals: Q was played by Sylvia Zilesnick; yours was an outstanding performance. For me you captured (not impersonated) Her Majesty perfectly, you were not a suggestion of her, you were her. Your regal demeanour coupled with your accent was something to behold. Your wonderful delivery and timing was a joy to watch. I hope you enjoyed playing Q - it was a wonderful part. Your interpretation of the Queen is how I really imagine her to be. Clever, witty with a wicked sense of humour. Your conversations were completely plausible. The difference in these 2 women and their roles was totally understood and reflected here. You completely retained your characterisation as did all of you, throughout – yes, I did stand for the National Anthem.
T was played by Sandra Davidson. An excellent portrayal of the older Mrs Thatcher, strong, clear measured delivery. You opened the play and for a split moment I didn’t know if you were The Iron Lady or Her Majesty. You set the scene for what was to come. I enjoyed your impression of Mrs Thatcher and it was right that you didn’t impersonate her, I think that would have made her a figure of fun and although a comedy the right note was struck. Your timing was excellent and you interacted with the others effortlessly.
Liz was played by Vee Wells again an excellent interpretation of the younger Queen. Again your delivery was good and I enjoyed your exchanges with Maggs vying for supremacy which of course was never in contention. Your accent might have been a little more clipped like Q’s but it really made no odds - yours was a jolly good performance.
Mags was played brilliantly by Jean Cooper. Your rendering of Maggie was wonderful. I did so enjoy you capturing her, for me, like Janet Brown did many years ago. Your mannerisms, sideways look, voice, accent etc was just Maggie! I can imagine you spent a great deal of time studying her. Maggs needed to be more like Maggie than Maggie and you achieved that without making her look stupid. I can imagine, in real life, you are still occasionally lapsing back to her – what a party trick!
Actor 1 was Dean Bartholomew and Actor 2 was Lee Kenneth. What a lot there was for you both to do. You both rose to the occasion wonderfully well. You had superb comic timing and worked the audience to the full. I particularly like Dennis Thatcher, Nancy Reagan and Gerry Adams you skilfully changed accent without demur, keeping the pace going and never faltering. Your exchange with the others on stage was quick fire and slick and we enjoyed the humour and your multifarious impersonation talents. This was a cast of equals, there appeared to be no weak link, no stumbling, no terrifying waits, you were all expert at stagecraft. It is little wonder you sold out (certainly the Friday and Saturday), I am not sure if that is always the case for your society but there is a pleasure in knowing that as many people as possible have seen the play because it was really very good.
Costumes: The costumes were excellent and so Maggie Thatcher and regal. I am sure it was a job to find such closely matching suits of different sizes for T and Mags. My only nitpick was that Mags’ hem had very obviously been let down, the hemline was very noticeable. It’s one of those things that we all think no one will notice but ofcourse they do. The wigs were excellent on the whole but particularly Q’s and Mags’. Again one has to remember that these are impressions rather than impersonations. I looked for a wigs credit in the programme but there wasn’t one, however, I understand that they were hired. They were worth every penny. And of course, there were the handbags, well you wouldn’t have had a show without them.
Set and Props: The set was designed and built by Stephen Radley and was excellent. The simple box set depicting a pink Union Jack emphasizing the femininity of these female giants was inspired. I have had a quick look at other productions and cannot see that this has been used elsewhere. It really was a clever idea. The raised platform added variety and a performing dais for looking down one’s nose at others. There were no scene changes to divert one’s attention from the action on stage. The content was good enough in terms of those performing and the clever writing to hold our attention easily. The props were minimal the content of the play standing alone as the sole interest other than the hilarious Corgi a real laugh out loud moment at the beginning of Act 2
Lighting & sound: The sound and lighting were first rate and all cues seemed to be on time. The projections were excellent ensuring that the audience knew the period of time that was being debated on stage. The accompanying music was extremely well chosen and witty adding hugely to the enjoyment factor and stirring dimmed memories.
Front of House: I enjoyed a warm welcome from the box office and Cathy. We particularly enjoyed visiting the newly refurbished bar. It really is very smart and I was delighted to see your NODA certificates displayed in frames on one of the window sills
Programme: The programme was well laid out and as usual The NODA insignia was on the front cover. The who’s who and chronological snapshot photographic aide memoirs of the period in time being discussed was hugely beneficial to remembering key events in Thatcher’s tenancy as PM. It is very handy having your show dates on the back page for forward planning.
General: I enjoyed this piece enormously and congratulate each and every one of you. My only problem was that the hall became increasing hot as the play progressed and I couldn’t wait to get out into the open air at the end and so missed saying hello to you. I hope rehearsals go well for Pressure and am looking forward to your next season very much.