thatcher and howe

Steve Nallon as Margaret Thatcher and Paul Bradley as Geoffrey Howe

Dead Sheep

Malvern Theatres

****

DENIS Healey once likened being attacked by Geoffrey Howe to being savaged by a ‘dead sheep’!

This recent play by Jonathan Maitland is an exploration of the relationship between Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher.

It explores the development from close associate and confidante, to the point where the ‘marriage’ was severed and this first woman Prime Minister sacked Geoffrey from his position of Foreign Secretary.

Thatcher’s reign was already beginning to suffer from cracks appearing in the parliamentary party, resentment was growing at her arrogance, and rivals beginning to consider a bid to unseat her, as she was becoming increasingly despotic.

Her difference of opinion with Howe and Nigel Lawson over the link with the European Union finally meant that she chose to demote him. As these various premaggie and elspethssures came to a head, Geoffrey Howe resigned from the cabinet and delivered a famous and withering attack on his former boss.

Jonathan Maitland has created an entertaining political satire that focuses primarily on Geoffrey Howe, who with Ian Gow, is the least satirised in the play.

He presents him as torn between his loyalty to his political mistress and his principles. His socialist-inclined wife Elspeth, who particularly grated with Thatcher, encourages him to stand up to her, to be strong, assertive and consistent with his own convictions.

Steve Nallon's Margaret Thatcher with Carol Royce as Elspeth Howe

Her character is gently cast in the mould of Lady Macbeth, even quoting that individual before his killer speech: ‘…..screw your courage to the sticking place!’

The simple, minimalist set creates a strong and effective impression from the outset. The huge portrait of Thatcher’s cabinet and the House of Commons green bench stretched across the stage provide a context for the action which requires a few pieces of stage furniture to complete the design.

The portrayal of Margaret Thatcher by Steve Nallon is a superb caricature: his voice captures her tone brilliantly and his mannerisms are excellent. Similarly Christopher Villiers’ depiction of Bernard Ingram was very amusing, as was John Wark’s Brian Walden.

However not all the characters were so caricatured; Graham Seed was an excellent Ian Gow, showing some real subtleties in his portrayal.

Paul Bradley as Sir Geoffrey was very convincing as the bumbling but clever politician who lacked charisma. He also managed to show a more appealing depth to his character to a considerable degree, but never quite achieves heroic status.

Carol Royce delivered a very well-modulated performance: her iciness towards the Prime Minister was controlled but witty, her relationship with her husband increasingly warm as the play progressed.

This play has a clear plot-line with the growing distance between Margaret Thatcher and her loyal minister. There are some very funny lines and moments: the telephone swapping scene when Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey want an interview with the PM before the Madrid summit was very entertaining and slickly performed. There are some moments of poignancy too: Ian Gow’s assassination was followed by some real pathos reinforced by some excellent music.

There are some potent points made about the world of politics: ‘There is no such thing as friends in politics!’ it is stated.  The ‘-isms’ became ‘-wasms’ when Thatcherism defeated them. The political critique is generally lightweight and not harsh. Relevant comments to our current period of Brexit carry rich irony.

The play will appeal to those who lived and followed their current affairs through that era but will mean little a younger generation. It is slick, sharp and entertaining but limited in its relevance. To 19-11-16

Timothy Crow

14-11-16 

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