Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho.
With a cast of three, Jon Brittain and Matt Tedford’s outrageous cross dressing romp takes aim at the political domination of the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher. Matt Tedford reprises his acclaimed take on Margaret Thatcher, leading the audience through the main premiership events but with a particular focus on the introduction by Jill Knight (and an unmentioned David Wilshire) of Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1980. This amendment barred local authorities, including schools, from discussing homosexuality and was not repealed until 2003.
It was apparent from the off that the vast majority of the audience knew exactly what they were in for and immediately entered into the spirit of 1980s camp. Ironically, the response was also reminiscent of how audiences of a particular political demographic reacted then to any alternative comedian who took a swipe at Margaret Thatcher.
The premise of Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho is that on the eve of a crucial vote, Maggie gets lost in Soho and accidentally becomes a cabaret superstar on the drag circuit. This in turn gave Tedford free rein to play up to his own drag persona, conducting proceedings with frequent knowing winks and nods to the audience. Other characters were similarly larger than life to the point of grotesque in some cases. The audience loved it and Tedford expertly played off the reaction, deploying a number of smart ad libs as well as anachronistic references to current events.There was plenty to enjoy in the slick use of 1980s music and exceptional sound cueing.
The production was however not without its issues. With a playing time of 75 minutes not including interval there were occasions when the format appeared stretched beyond the critically acclaimed one act version originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. Otherwise clever sequences (such as conversation with an animated photograph of Winston Churchill) were extended beyond their novelty value and rehearsed corpsing added nothing to the mix. While energy level was extremely high, delivery was relentlessly shouty (apart from a sequence of some sensitivity in the second act). The running gag of Maggie’s continued inability to remember the name of her civil service aide was not the only example of cheap humour since, for all her faults, Margaret Thatcher was renowned on a personal level for her courtesy and consideration towards support workers.
Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho will not be enjoyed by everyone but on the other hand it is clearly not intended that it should. On that basis it is apparent that it will continue to attract many with some knowledge of the set up, enjoy the sense of communal values and take up all the opportunities for audience participation.
Review by Robin Kelly