A couple of years ago Chris Roberts - who will be leading our 4th Londonist Walk on Friday evening - (and who is no relation to the Grantham Roberts clan) co-wrote True Blue: A musical about Margaret Thatcher in a bid to come to terms with his own, and his nation’s, past and more importantly setting Geoffrey Howe and others to music. Who better then, to send along as guest reviewer to a spanking new play, "The Death of Margaret Thatcher".
In one sense this could be called the Death of Madonna or any other iconic blonde best remembered from the 1980s. Though, because it contains the words ‘death’ and ‘Thatcher’ a different response can be conjured up from a play dealing with the big subject of how people react to the death of a celebrity. It comes as no surprise that first out of the hat to object was Thatcher’s erstwhile colleague Norman Tebbit (a tad hypocritically if reported stories of the posthumous gag he plans for himself are true).
As it is, the Iron Lady barely features in her own funeral and the action is driven forward by a news team reporting the demise and events around the funeral with an admirable, if unlikely, lack of hysteria. Two other plot lines involve a gentleman and his psychiatrist and the undertaker charged with dressing the baroness. Both of these weave memories of Mrs T into the dialogue and the lightness, and randomness, of these snippets are some of the best aspects of the script. Perhaps the most ironic dialogue however is the debate over whether she should have a state or private funeral. The idea of the great privatiser, grocer Roberts’ daughter, being buried by the state is deeply pleasing.
There was, however, none of the rage one might have expected. All that is channelled through the character of a former steel worker who never made the final stage version but is referenced throughout, even though he, even in abstract, never speaks directly. Still, I guess steel workers, post Maggie, are hard to find in Hoxton, or anywhere else in the UK come to that. This lack of emotional drama appealed to me because if the writer is expressing the belief that somehow we are ‘over’ Margaret Thatcher and won’t go all mental over the death of an iconic figure, I sincerely hope he’s correct.
This is a small scale production with some good performances about a huge subject and a titanic character. Its understated treatment of the latter could be seen as quite a damning indictment on the milk snatcher’s reign and maybe that’s what Norman was objecting to all along.
Many thanks to Chris Roberts.
The Death of Margaret Thatcher is at the Courtyard Theatre, 40 Pitfield Street, London, N1 6EU. (Old Street Tube) until 2 March. Book through See Tickets on 0870 163 0717 or online.