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Review of Shakespeare’s Margaret Thatcher at The Drayton Arms

Shakespeare's Margaret ThatcherAt some time, everyone has played that game where you state which famous people from history you would invite to a dinner party. It’s a fascinating pastime and can lead to some very interesting debates on the relative merits of various guests. One person who probably wouldn’t make many people’s dinner party list is former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. So a play that combines the dinner party with the world’s greatest playwright and you have Shakespeare’s Margaret Thatcher at the Drayton Arms Theatre.

Welcome to the afterlife and the home of Mr William Shakespeare (Ciaran Barata-Hynes) who tonight is hosting a dinner party. However, this is more than just some chicken and a glass or two of something, for tonight, Will’s guests will be doing a read through of his new play – a tragedy about the life of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Will has assembled an eclectic collection of the great and the good in heaven to join him. First to arrive is Gertrude Stein (Elisha Aylmore) followed by her friend/nemesis Dorothy Parker (Elizabeth Pilcher). Next up it’s the first of the gentleman guests in the shape of Benjamin Franklin (Christopher Grace) and the great Socrates (H. F. W Buckner) spouting all sorts of convoluted philosophical soundbites. The last to arrive are Aphra Behn (Zara Walywn) and finally, fresh from winding up some of Heaven’s inhabitants its Sir Charlie Chaplin (Ynaqui Tuason-Inocian). Can this talented team do justice to Shakespeare’s work and bring the Iron Lady’s story to life in a manner befitting the author and subject?

Writer/Director Ciaran Barata-Hynes has taken on a lot to put together these two stories – Shakespeare’s dinner party and Margaret Thatcher’s play – into a single eighty-minute production. And certain elements of the show work rather well. For example, the arrival of the guests is quite amusing, particularly the snappy one-line insults between Gertrude and Dorothy which are witty and quite good fun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all work and Benjamin Franklin, in particular, seems to spend a lot of time trying to get people to laugh about how hell must have frozen over and observed that Socrates may be toying with us.

The Thatcher play within a play worked a lot better to my mind. Whilst there were glaring historical inaccuracies, these didn’t matter too much and most would only have been noticed by someone like me who lived through the 11 years, 209 days of her reign over this sceptered isle. Elizabeth Pilcher made a pretty good Margaret and Ynaqui Tuason-Inocian was brilliant as an oily Kenneth Baker – it was as if the old ‘Spitting Image’ puppet had been brought to life. Ciaran has a real ear for Shakespearean speech patterns and word usage and there was a definite feeling of authenticity in the text. The problem for me was that it felt like actors playing the roles, not the guests from Shakespeare’s dinner party.

The actual staging of the play was nicely done with a minimal set and costumes which gave the idea of the characters whilst enabling them to switch to more appropriate clothing in the Thatcher play. I also thought the lighting.was very effective, especially for the transition from the dinner party to play within a play.

I am always in awe of playwrights that try something different and Ciaran really should be commended for doing just that with Shakespeare’s Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately, for me, it felt like it was still very much a work in progress. I, and again this is personal opinion, would have really concentrated on the Thatcher story which has everything a good Shakespeare play needs – intrigue, assassination (not literally but politically) a tyrannical leader who believes they are destined to rule forever, and oppressed masses. I do believe that if William Shakespeare was alive today, he would be sitting at his laptop writing the lady’s story. Unfortunately, he isn’t but I think Ciaran could easily turn out to be just the man for the job. 

2 gold stars

Review by Terry Eastham

It is a cold night in the afterlife, and William Shakespeare is preparing to host one of his famous dinner parties. There will be food, drink, famous guests, and most importantly, the unveiling of his latest work: a history play detailing the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. Politics can be a charged topic of conversation at any dinner party, but with Gertrude Stein, Benjamin Franklin, Dorothy Parker, Socrates, Aphra Behn, and Charlie Chaplin as his guests, perhaps this time the Bard has bitten off more than he can chew! This play about a play is both a fantastical comedy and a Shakespearian tragedy full to the brim with conquest and betrayal. With both parts
performed by a singular cast, Shakespeare’s Margaret Thatcher is unlike anything else you are likely to see.

SHAKESPEARE’S MARGARET THATCHER
Dates: 20th – 24th February
Location: The Drayton Arms, 153 Old Brompton Rd, Kensington, London SW5 0LJ
Running time: 90 mins
Written by: Ciaran Barata-Hynes
Directed by: Ciaran Barata-Hynes
Produced by: Philip Hunt

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