The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2018 – Margaret Thatcher Queen of Club Nights, 24th August 2018

Margaret Thatcher Club NightsOn our first trip to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, the funniest thing we saw was Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho. A year later, and she re-emerged as Queen of Game Shows – not quite so brilliant a show, but still excellent. Now the blessed Margaret is back, in yet another brand new format: Margaret Thatcher Queen of Club Nights. It’s on at the Nightclub @ Gilded Balloon Teviot, at midnight on the night of Friday 24th. Here’ the blurb: “Former PM and cabaret superstar Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho is back… and this time she’s hosting a club night! There’ll be non-stop 80s hits from a non-stop 80s witch as the Iron Lady drops more beats than Theresa May has dropped manifesto pledges. As Corbyn takes his party back to the 70s, Maggie takes hers to the 80s! Featuring dance-offs, lip-sync battles and more, come and join the one female Tory leader who still has public support. You’ll be as Lucky, Lucky, Lucky as Kylie was avoiding marriage to Jason.”

I know this is going to be great, and I’m looking forward to it so much! Maggie will once again be interpreted by Matt Tedford in his delightfully distinguished and patronising style. Check back around 2am – or better still on Saturday morning – to see how much we enjoyed it, and by then the preview blog for our next show should be available to read too.

In the end, this was a very simple format – a fabulous 80s disco, fronted by Maggie together with her two backing dancers, Boris and Jacob. She danced and performed a few of the songs, and there was a “best dancer” competition. We decided to bail out at 2am, but there was another hour of fun and frolics still ahead. If you were expecting a “show” as such, you’d probably be disappointed. But it was a great disco!

Review – Dead Sheep, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 20th September 2016

Dead SheepWasn’t that one of the world’s best ever insults? Forget your Shakespearean cream faced loon and lily-liver’d boy; when Denis Healey described debating with Sir Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons as like “being savaged by a dead sheep”, it said so much about the nature of both men. But the most glorious aspect to that slur, which had been cast even before Howe had joined Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, was the way he turned it around to deliver possibly the most damning resignation speech the Commons has ever witnessed.

thatcher-and-howeAh, the 1970s and 1980s. Don’t they seem like innocent days in retrospect? Actually, no. Three day weeks, power cuts, the miners’ strike, Falklands War, and the close possibility of someone pressing that nuclear button meant these were times of tension. We all had a thoroughly miserable time apart from in music and fashion. We have political tension today too, led by ineptitude. But no matter your politics, you could never say that Thatcher was inept. Au contraire, she must have been one of the most ept people ever to have existed. Everything she did, she meant. Nothing she did created an accidental effect – it was all deliberate. And that is shown most beautifully in Jonathan Maitland’s play about the relationship between Thatcher and Howe – its rise and fall, her exquisite powerplay, his ultimate revenge.

thatcher-cabinetIf you were an adult during the 1980s, this play is a true nostalgia trip. As you enter the auditorium, the stage curtains are open to reveal a huge photograph of the Thatcher cabinet, and whilst you’re waiting for the play to begin, it’s impossible not to go through all the faces and tick off the ones you recognise and remember. It’s a really clever ruse to get you into the 80s mindset. I got just over half of them right. The second act opens with Brian Walden (a devilish impersonation by John Wark that brings the house down) interviewing Geoffrey Howe on Weekend World (Sundays at noon on LWT) and my toes curled with delight at the memories of watching that programme, mainly so that I could really lose myself in its theme music, Nantucket Sleighride. I confess, my air guitar did briefly come out in the stalls last night.

paul-bradleyGiven the play’s title, and the fact that it stars Steve Nallon, you might be fooled into thinking this is simply a riotous comedy. That’s far from the truth. Certainly, there’s a lot to laugh at in this play, and it’s distinguished by some fine performances. One of the funniest scenes, which gets its own round of applause, plays out the ludicrous telephone requests between Howe and Lawson to get Thatcher to agree to a meeting before the Madrid summit – performed by the male characters in the cast with a terrific sense of ensemble and at a cracking pace. But what particularly grabbed me about the play was how strongly it conveyed a rather claustrophobic sense of political intrigue – of plotting and revenge; of pitting a cynical, manipulative brain against a rather simple, honest one. Mrs Chrisparkle and I also wondered if the play had been revised at all for a post-Brexit audience, as there are a number of rather ironic lines about membership of the European Community which raise some embarrassed titters; plus the nice observation that not even the Labour Party would think of electing a leader with a beard.

graham-seedJonathan Maitland is obviously extremely at home with writing about real people at the centre of controversy. Just like his brilliant Audience with Jimmy Savile (which also premiered at the Park Theatre, and which also featured Graham Seed in the cast), the success of the production would rely very heavily on a convincing performance by the central character. For Jimmy Savile, Maitland had Alistair McGowan on blistering form; for Margaret Thatcher, he has Steve Nallon, permanently associated with providing Thatcher’s voice for Spitting Image. Simply no one can do Thatcher like he can. In the same breath, he can cajole and hector, patronise and flirt, reminding you of that voice with chilling accuracy.

john-warkAnd it’s not just the voice; he has perfected the steely glare that outwits Howe and Lawson in that awful meeting; he has her ungainly walk that veers between elegant lady and impatient streetsweeper; and he has her eyes that, during Howe’s resignation speech, start off smug but slowly lose focus and eventually turn desperate. It’s an amazing performance. Unlike Matt Tedford, the other Thatcher currently on the block with his wonderful Queen of Soho and Queen of Game Shows, Mr Nallon is a big, broad man. I never met Margaret Thatcher but I am sure that Mr Nallon is much bigger than she ever was. But his size lends that suggestion of dominance, of sheer force, the potential for cruelty; and it’s a combination that works brilliantly in this play. Bizarrely, you never look at the character of Thatcher on stage and think to yourself, “that’s a man in drag”; you just think that she has come back to life. The final scene takes us to a meeting between Howe and Thatcher in the House of Lords, where she’s beginning to tread the finest lines of early dementia. Mr Nallon was delicacy personified as his Thatcher tries to retain her old self but fails to make entirely proper sense – a fantastic injection of humanity that you take home with you.

christopher-villiersPaul Bradley also gives a faultless performance as Sir Geoffrey, presenting him as a man of quiet dignity and unshakable commitment, fully aware of his personal shortcomings, and with a degree of altruism that is rare in a politian. He is – and I know this is an unlikely phrase to use – superbly bland amongst others with much greater charisma. His dress-down sweater is a masterstroke! John Wark, Graham Seed and Christopher Villiers assume all the other male roles as a wonderful modern take on a classic Greek chorus, keeping us informed as to what’s happening and who’s talking, acting as a perfect interface between the main characters and the audience, intimating at the heroic downfall that will take place. Christopher Villiers’ foul-mouthed Alan Clark (how pleasant it has been to have totally forgotten about him) and bluff, bigoted Bernard Ingham are a particular delight to watch. Carol Royle gives a classy performance as Elspeth, the power behind Geoffrey’s throne; subtly giving him support whilst also antagonising the PM with her worthy causes. Her scenes when she shows herself to be as adept at holding her own as Thatcher are a pure delight. Her reaction when she hears Thatcher say “rout” will long make me think twice about using that word!

thatcher-and-elspethA really rewarding and thought provoking play that follows the relationship between two firmly unwavering people. It’s always entertaining to see the underdog win! Beautifully written and superbly performed, its tour continues until the end of November, visiting Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Cardiff, Coventry, Exeter, Eastbourne, Malvern, Guildford and Bromley. Definitely one to catch!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2016 – Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows, 26th August 2016

Margaret Thatcher Queen of SohoWithout a shadow of a doubt, the funniest thing we saw at the Edinburgh Fringe on our first trip two years ago was Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho. It was so brilliant we went again with friends when he/she returned to the Leicester Square Theatre last year. Now the show is back, in a brand new format: Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows. It’s on at Piccolo @ Assembly George Square Gardens, at 21:00 on Friday 26th. The blurb tells you all you need to know: “Ding-dong the witch is back! Multi award-winning Fringe sensation Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho presents the most fabulous game show of all. Fresh from total sell-out Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs in 2014 and 2015, the Iron Lady has now set her sights on light entertainment. Join Maggie as she makes audience members compete for their golden giro cheque. There’ll be songs, games and of course… catchphrases! ‘So much fun Theresa May will probably outlaw it’ ( ***** ( ‘Glorious camp with political punch’ **** (Times). ‘Dame Edna has an unlikely rival’ **** (Telegraph).”

Matt TedfordI predict a riot. Maggie will once again be interpreted by Matt Tedford in his delightfully distinguished and patronising style. The act is a complete hoot and I can already recommend it wholeheartedly to you, even before we’ve seen it! Check back around 10.30 to see if it’s even better than I expected, and by then the preview blog for our next show should be available to read too.

Post-show update:

Once again la Grande Dame de Westminster brings us some song and dance, this time under cover of a game show. It’s immaculately performed, ingeniously put together and very very funny. The audience is split into Strivers and Skivers and we compete to take home the Golden Giro, although, clever Maggie, I don’t think anyone was awarded it yesterday! For me, I slightly preferred “Queen of Soho”, as it has greater plot drive. But this is still very funny indeed and definitely not to be missed! 

Review – Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, Leicester Square Theatre, 19th March 2015

Margaret Thatcher Queen of SohoOn our first foray to the Edinburgh fringe last summer we saw some spellbinding productions. Riveting drama, glamorous revue, exciting dance – but nothing funnier than Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, late at night under a circus big top. So when the Divine Diva got resurrected for another hoorah week at the Leicester Square Theatre, we couldn’t resist re-dipping our toes into the seedy world of 1980s Soho. We also knew that our friends my Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters would find it irresistible, as they have been leftie agitators since they were connected to the placenta. Thus it was that the four of us snuck downstairs into that vibrant little arty hub that is the Leicester Square Theatre to see a slightly extended version of the show that won this year’s Chrisparkle Award for Best Entertainment – Edinburgh (I know, catchy category.)

Jenny lives with Eric and MartinThe time – the late 80s, the place – Westminster. The Beloved Margaret is hanging on to her third term as PM but trouble’s brewing. What can she do to firm up her flagging popularity? She’s already closed the mines; she’s already sunk the Belgrano. Options are running out. Enter Jill Knight (boo, hiss) with her nose deftly sniffing out dirt like a truffle-hunting pig as she exposes the book “Jenny lives with Eric and Martin”, a hideous piece of homosexual propaganda designed to deprave and corrupt children everywhere (this is me being satirical, by the way). With the threat of a revolt from her back benchers, Maggie sees it is right and just to support Section 28 of the Local Government Act and therefore make it illegal for such filth to be liberally promoted in our schools. But this causes the homosexuals to be revolting too, and she cannot decide what to do. She turns to the spirit of Winston Churchill only to discover that even he has turned into a raving queen. Desperate, on the streets, in search of solace and enlightenment, she finds herself in deepest darkest Soho, where a couple of friendly chaps entice her into a gay bar where she finally sees the light. Section 28 is no more, she happily hands over the reins of the country to that nice Mr Kinnock and she devotes her life to disco. And it’s all, comme on dit, Absolutely Fabulous.

Matt TedfordThe show is an unashamed riot from start to finish. The humour comes from so many sources, all hitting you at the same time that you hardly have time to take stock of each situation. Firstly, you have to suspend disbelief that the Ballsy Baroness is still with us (and that daughter Carol is operating the lights). Then you have to accept the preposterous suggestion that the Iron Lady could actually immerse herself in camp, and give herself over to the decadence of the gay Soho scene. There’s enormous fun spotting the many clever Thatcherite references throughout (like the milk moment); it plays with time – Ian McKellen’s Gandalf’s surprise intervention being a good example; it re-writes all our childhoods with a gay episode of Grange Hill and redefines other real-life characters (turning Peter Tatchell into a cross between Johnny Rotten and Bob Hoskins). To add to the cabaret element, it incorporates many of the favourite disco and New Romantic hits of the era, and the Blessed Margaret treats us to her version of each of the songs, giving it some wellie in her delivery. John Brittain and Matt Tedford’s script is sardined with ludicrous wit and genuine heart, and the fourth wall is broken so many times you’d think Miley Cyrus had got to it first with her wrecking ball. And, above all, you have one of the most delightful parody characterisations of a female Prime Minister you could imagine.

Margaret Thatcher TitsMatt Tedford assumes so many of Thatcher’s idiosyncrasies so accurately and indeed subtly – for what is in no way a subtle show – contributing enormously to what I think is of the best comic performances I’ve ever seen. The stoop, the condescending manner, the patronising voice, the manipulative use of pauses – not to mention the evil glare – are all done to perfection. It’s not a traditional impersonation in the Rory Bremner/Mike Yarwood tradition (in fact wasn’t it Janet Brown who got closest to the traditional who do you do of Thatcher?) because Mr Tedford is way too young (and frankly too jovial) to achieve that, but more of an askance suggestion of what the Conniving Chemist could have been like if only she’d been born with a silver glitterball in her mouth. Mr Tedford’s Maggie sings like she’s delivering a speech (“Don’t you want me, baby?” “You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal”, “good authors too who once knew better words now only use four-letter words” – as she opens a book with the word “TITS” emblazoned on the middle pages – I told you it wasn’t subtle).

Maggie says RelaxHe’s also exceptional in his handling of the audience (ooh matron), swiftly putting down any “contributions” with a scornful look. Early on in last night’s show someone in the front row made a comment which didn’t get many laughs (I didn’t quite hear it myself) which he squished viciously. Near the end of the show, Maggie proclaims “there’s only one place for me now” at which someone shouted “in the cemetery!” to much hilarity from the audience; which prompted Mrs (or should that be Mr) T to return to that first heckler with a patronising “you see, that’s the way you do it, dear”. Mr Tedford has the rare ability to engage the audience completely and take us along with a sheer flight of fantasy, and it’s great to see a master at work. To add to the downright fun of it all, he’s gamely assisted by Nico Lennon and Ed Yelland as his supporting company, playing something like 25 roles between them, totally over-the-top in their characterisations and throwing themselves into very athletic and physical comedy, as well as embodying the moustachioed gay equivalent of Pan’s People for the disco numbers.

Down with ThatcherThe audience absolutely loved it, reacting enthusiastically, almost panto-like, during many sequences and giving a much deserved standing ovation at the end. There are only two more nights for this show at the Leicester Square Theatre, but surely this is not the end of Maggie Queen of Soho. It was definitely the right decision to see it again, and I only hope she continues to grace our stages in the near future. Anarchic fantasy at its best!

P.S. Can I recommend Maggie’s youtube video of Top Ten Tips to being a Prime Minister? It’s a hoot!

The Edinburgh Fringe 3-Nighter – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho

Margaret Thatcher Queen of SohoHopefully we will have had time for a quick bite to eat before going off to see Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho. To be honest, I’m not expecting much in the way of political satire – the promotional photo tells you it’s going to be a huge send-up with not an insubstantial amount of drag. But that’s fine with me. It’s described thus: “She’s back! Britain’s first female prime minister stars in a drag comedy musical extravaganza like no other! On the eve of the vote for Section 28, Maggie gets lost in Soho and accidentally becomes a cabaret superstar, but will she change her mind about the homophobic bill before it’s too late? A camp odyssey about gay rights, the 80s and disco!” I’m hoping it’s going to be as fully tasteless as it sounds. It’s on at the Assembly George Square Gardens at 21:10 – and we have very little time between its finishing an hour later and the start of our next show so I’ll try to feedback here at 10.10pm but if I can’t, it might have to be after the following show, a preview of which will be up here at about 10.00pm.

Bit later than expected – but what a treat. Whoever it is who plays the late Baroness has got the condescending mannerisms off to a T, which when mixed with her doing disco numbers and the story of her becoming an enlightened liberal creates one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time. Great adlibbing too – and a well deserved standing ovation at the end. Maggie the Magnificent!