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Audience is the winner of Blues and Royals uncivil war

Handbagged, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until March 3 It’s probably one of the most unlikely double acts you could imagine. Sprinkled with a nice dose of gossip, however, to say nothing of allowing us a cheeky peep behind palace doors, this is an opportunity to savour a right royal theatrical beanfeast. Our entertainers are the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, no less, and they’re doling out 11 years’ worth of reflection on the state of the nation through a particularly rocky period. A shame, really, that we can’t take it all as gospel because writer Moira Buffini is merely suggesting how things might have been in the closed-door sessions between those two powerful women. So it’s down to a top-notch production to bring out the fun in a script that’s packed with humour, irony and a hefty degree of boldness. The Loft delivers the goods with a sprightly glee, despite unexpected last-minute casting problems. The result is a crowd-pleaser, not so much in the traditional sense, more in the nature of a shared experience between stage and auditorium. This is skilfully achieved by director Gus MacDonald and a company whose commitment to the difficult challenge is beyond reproach. The Queen and Mrs Thatcher are deliciously realised in manner and voice by Anne-Marie Greene and Mary MacDonald, interacting with velvet-gloved politeness while harbouring clutches of less-respectful reactions to each other. Overlooking and interspersing with their conversations are their older selves, conveyed with a wicked twinkle by Helen Ashbourne and a remarkable replacement effort by Angie Collins. But the play scores further in widening its framework to include a host of characters and events relevant to the period, all in the hands of two actors. Phil Reynolds provides a magnificent range, including a drippy Denis Thatcher, a pompous Geoffrey Howe, an hilarious Ronald Reagan and a loudmouth Rupert Murdoch, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Dame Edna’s old sidekick Sir Les Patterson.

For Ed Statham, highlights such as Nancy Reagan and Kenneth Kaunda far outshine one or two lesser efforts. The play itself is too long and starts to take itself too seriously in the later stages, but with so much current television focus on royalty past and present, it comes as a refreshing tonic. A formidable challenge, well met.

PICTURES: Richard Smith Photography.

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