By David Forman
The Pip Utton Theatre Company unleashed its character Simon Sherwood, playing the role of Margaret Thatcher, upon a mixed audience of Thatcher lovers and haters at the Playhouse last night (Thursday) in what proved to be both highly entertaining and illuminating.
The opening scene sees Simon is in his theatre dressing room studying his notes. In the background we hear the distinctive Thatcher voice uttering the famous words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony…”
Simon goes on to read aloud some letters from admiring fans, but from his past looms some hidden angst as his brother writes, “Dear Simon, have you forgotten what she did to Dad?” Simon remarks: “My brother doesn’t normally write to me, but this is not the best way to prepare for a show.”
After makeup, Thatcher strides to the podium. Unimpressed with her reception Maggie demands the audience tries again. She quips that on her journey into Harlow in the taxi she was impressed that the town had prepared for her visit with the billboards emblazoned with the slogan “The Mummy Returns”.
A question and answer session follows with me kicking it off with a long question about the miners’ strike paraphrased as: “Do you believe Nicholas Ridley’s plan in 1977 and the BBC’s film coverage of the Battle of Orgreave mass picket contributed to your victory?” I’m put out of my misery with a masterful putdown: “You’ve answered your own question, but my answer is No.”
The issue of Right to Buy comes up twice and Maggie makes the point that that two-thirds of Harlow’s homes are owned by the people that live in them and that her policy was the biggest transfer of wealth to ordinary workers in modern history. Naturally, some audience members disagree.
During the performance someone’s phone rings and Maggie says: “Tell them I’m busy.” She swiftly goes on to field more questions including a Welshman who asks “I can forgive you for the mines, but what about the milk?” She skilfully answers the Milk Snatcher question and moves on.
Then an awkward question on gay rights and the Section 28 ban, which produces a surprising insight into Maggie being one of the few Conservative MPs to support Leo Abse’s 1967 Private Members Bill that decriminalised homosexual acts between males aged over 21.
We then move to more current issues with a question on what she thought about Donald Trump. Maggie responds: “He needs to get a new hairdresser! But seriously, many people at first dismissed Adolf Hitler as a clown and now people are doing the same with Donald Trump, but you don’t become as rich as Donald Trump by being a clown and so this makes him a dangerous man.”
Inevitably the European Union Referendum is mentioned and Maggie responds: “You’re best in the EU, but are you best in this EU? I think not.”
With putdowns, clever jokes and well researched answers the audience are eventually returned to the dressing room and we discover what Thatcher did to Simon Sherwood’s Dad, a miner at Littleton Colliery.
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