Tag Archives: Indhu Rubasingham

“Handbagged” at the Kiln Theatre

It feels odd to watch not one but two versions of Queen Elizabeth on stage so soon after her death. A respectful minute’s silence before last night’s show, lead by director Indhu Rubasingham, indicates careful thought has gone into letting Moira Buffini’s five star play go ahead.  But for all the fun in this hilarious piece, which cheekily imagines the Queen’s private meetings with her Prime Minister Mrs. Thatcher, her Majesty comes off very well.

That public statements were not allowed to our constitutional monarch means Buffini can make the Queen a contrast to the Prime Minister. Turns out the richest woman in the world had a lot of concerns about social inequality. And her passion for the Commonwealth gives a global perspective in contrast to Thatcher’s little Britain. But there’s also tenderness in Buffini’s writing about the Queen – she’s presented as a fun, witty woman and a caring mother.

All the Queen’s admirable qualities are conveyed by the actors taking on what must be a particularly challenging role right now. Both Abigail Cruttenden and Marion Bailey, as younger and older versions respectively, give strong performances and make a lot of the lines even funnier than they already are; you could happily spend the night watching Bailey’s every expert move.

Buffini is harder on Thatcher. The role is written with more anger and is possibly closer to caricature. The performances from Naomi Frederick and Kate Fahy respond appropriately. Frederick, as the younger version, manages to suggest nervousness about dealing with a figure she reveres that generates a little sympathy. Fahy’s line in dignity, as she looks back on her time at the top, is convincing no matter her views. The scorn with which both women can say the word ‘socialist’ or ‘wet’ is tremendous.

The way all four characters interact as they try to take charge of the story about Britain during the Thatcher years is hilarious. The blend of sarcasm and sincerity is perfect – the quartet of perspectives battle to tell and interpret what happened. The subject of Thatcher’s dementia provides a moving moment and yet another layer of consideration about interpreting the past. Buffini’s script is dazzling and you don’t want to miss a word.

There’s more to Handbagged than some fantastic comedy and strong impersonations – although both of these make the show a must-see. Two more characters join the stage – ‘Actors’ played by Romayne Andrews and Richard Cant who also impress as a variety of famous faces with great lines. The main role of these super supernumeraries is to highlight what putting on a play – and a play about history – entails.

Pointing out what Thatcher and the Queen don’t want to discuss, slowing down the show to their frustration or embarrassment, the ‘Actors’ interjections are often funny and make sure that their characters are satisfyingly full. Attempts at directing these powerful women are brilliant moments, aided by the show’s real director too. Rubasingham directed the first production of the play, almost ten years ago, and her knowledge shines through, brimming with joyous confidence about the strength of what’s on stage: the respectful, you might say faithful, approach to this modern classic seems very much in keeping with our times.

Until 29 October 2022

www.kilntheatre.com

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“Ugly Lies The Bone” at the National Theatre

Lindsey Ferrentino’s plays have received plenty of awards and, having worked for the Roundabout Theatre Company and The Public Theatre in New York, she is no stranger to prestigious venues. Still, it must still be an exciting coup to have your UK premiere on the South Bank, and surely her work has much to commend it, but it’s a shame this lacklustre piece doesn’t live up to the honour.

The scenario is powerful, a wounded war veteran returning home. The treatment includes artificial reality – the idea is to shock the system into forgetting horrific burns – so reaching for designer Es Devlin’s number, given her work on The Nether, was a sensible move. Devlin has delivered the goods, with projections on to an impressive set that’s part infinity cove and part model town.

Kate Fleetwood

Ferrentino’s characterisation isn’t bad, either. There’s the strong lead role of Jess for Kate Fleetwood – a flawless performance – whose indomitable spirit is saved from cliché by an edge to her humour that could have been pushed further. The men in her life seem pretty scrappy by comparison, but the roles allow Ralf Little and Kris Marshall to show some good comedy skills. Yet so overpowering is Jess’s part that, along with the character of her sister (another superb performance, from Olivia Darnley), the play feels as if it should focus on them, yet doesn’t quite manage to do so.

There are too many false starts around. The medical advances used to treat Jess are interesting, but explored superficially. Hearing but not seeing the scientist pioneering the treatment (Buffy Davis) is novel but alienating and starts to become dull. The time and location of the play – the end of the space shuttle programme in the midst of war in Afghanistan – could give us more pauses for thought but any claims or insight about either are lost. We fall back on a solid human-interest story that ticks along too slowly. Director Indhu Rubasingham does little to add pace, resulting in a disappointingly pedestrian evening.

Until 6 June 2017

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Mark Douet

“The Motherf**cker In The Hat” at the National Theatre

A play that comes with its own stars, albeit an excessively modest two of them, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Broadway hit may have a title that fits uncomfortably with the National Theatre’s augustness, but The Motherf**cker In The Hat is a quality play that London should welcome. Detailing the struggles and affairs between a drug addict on probation, his ‘sponsor’ and their girlfriends, the work’s vigorous language belies its old-fashioned enquiry into morality.

Jpeg 1Ricardo Chavira plays Jackie, a troubled convict following a plan to free himself from addiction with a suitably cynical edge, making our hero hugely appealing despite his faults. Flor De Liz Perez (pictured) performs as Jackie’s partner, delivering vicious tirades with verve. Also from the States comes Yul Vázquez as Cousin Julio, delivering a marvellously understated, original performance. Completing this strong cast, directed flawlessly by Indhu Rubasingham, are Nathalie Armin as the unfortunate wife of the rehabilitated Ralph, the philandering sponsor with a PhD in persuasion, depicted brilliantly by Alec Newman as a devil who firmly believes he has all the best lines.

It can’t be denied that the play is reminiscent of a soap opera (or should that be a telenovela?), but the sordid plot twists, while predictable, are expertly handled and feel believable. Likewise, the bad language and lurid insults play their part, not just in making the script very funny, but in creating characters you really fall for. For all the shouting on stage, this is a work that quietly ensures we take seriously the questions it’s asking – about how to be good.

The play is calmer, less surreal, than Adly Guirgis’ other works seen in London. It’s tempting to say it feels more grown up, as that’s clearly one of the themes here; the talk of prayers and pharmaceuticals both play a part in questioning responsibility and relationships. Jackie and Ralph are just young men, with more than enough faults and few excuses. But Jackie has a heart and the potential for goodness that feels realistic and makes this play an unusually sharp comedy.

Until 20 August 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Mark Douet

“Handbagged” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, which after a hit run at the Tricycle Theatre had its West End premiere last night, tells the story of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister by imagining her private audiences with the Queen. The characters Liz and Mags reenact their 1980s meetings and are watched over by Q and T – the same figures in later life, who are portrayed as staging the show and provide an acerbic additional commentary on the action. For every joke there’s an equally amusing interjection, so you get two laughs for the price of one – brilliant.

Now, playwrights are not generally Thatcher’s natural constituency, so it is no surprise that the highlights picked out by Buffini are predictably low points. The Miners’ strike, the Falklands, South Africa and the Poll Tax: there are plenty of targets for satire. But Handbagged isn’t just funny, it’s intelligent as well. The history lesson here is cleverly told and not as biased as you might fear. As well as the notion that the ultimate establishment figure is to the left of Mrs T, the Queen’s devotion to the Commonwealth is given its due. And Thatcher is allowed to answer back – well, it would beggar belief to think she would give a playwright an easy time.

Acknowledging the evening as a theatrical production full of “artifice and sham” adds an honesty to the piece. Those meetings were private after all, speculation about their relationship just that, and Buffini wisely never presents her work as the final word. It’s fun: not only do we get discussion about whether there should be an interval – carry on through or enjoy your ice cream? – but the real anger at some of Thatcher’s decisions is given a magically light touch.

In their capacity as the show’s ‘producers’, Q and T recruit two jobbing actors to play a huge variety of roles, and they end up trying to take over the show. Jeff Rawle’s repertoire of accents is astounding and Neet Mohan is superb as he endures the “stroke of casting genius” that sees him dragged up as Nancy Reagan.

Handbagged is superbly performed. Under Indhu Rubasingham’s skillful direction, all four leading ladies excel. These are reinventions rather than simple impersonations (although Marion Bailey’s top lip deserves an award of its own). More credit then to Bailey, Stella Gonet, Lucy Robinson and Fenella Woolgar for injecting real heart into the roles. There is gravitas, when it comes to key speeches the women gave, and emotion at traumatic events. Staying just the right side of parody, Woolgar in particular never takes her eye off this fine balance. Politics has seldom been presented so originally or with such great laughs.

Until 2 August 2014

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 11 April 2014 for The London Magazine