17 December 2013
playing until 4 January 2014
When I first experienced the wonders of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, I wrote about the amazing variety of the festival, and the surprises it constantly brings. London’s theatres are proving just as surprising as I explore more of them, and Tuesday night brought my first visit to Battersea’s Theatre 503 to see the rather unlikely titled show, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho.
Expanded into a full hour’s performance from a 15-minute sketch, this drag show has the feel of a Fringe production, with its minimal set and intimate space. The design is that of a cabaret show — albeit a low budget one — in which Maggie (Matt Tedford) has taken up residence, putting the world of political machinations behind her after stumbling into the depths of Soho. From Iron Lady to disco queen, the transformation is improbable and hilarious: “Where there is disco, may we bring harmonies”.
Although the quips and digs are accessible to all, a knowledge of 1980s politics is helpful in following the background and proceedings of the Section 28 amendment, passed in 1988 under Thatcher’s government, which outlawed the “promotion” of homosexual relationships in schools. However, there’s plenty in here for those who only have a vague awareness of Thatcher’s reputation — at one point a bottle of milk is offered to, then snatched away from, a member of the front row — and the serious subject matter doesn’t stop the cast of three throwing around some ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ innuendo and a whole heap of camp dance moves. Classic 80s songs such as ‘Y.M.C.A’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ are presented as you’ve never seen them before, with Matt Tedford’s vocals somehow making every word sound suggestive, and the outrageous dance moves of ‘The Wets’ (Ed Yelland and Robert Cawsey) threatening to steal the show. Yet the singing itself (almost spoken word, to tell the truth) dithers on that line between being awkward for comic effect, and, well, just plain awkward. The problem is that the different numbers are really all part of the same joke — Thatcher singing disco?! — meaning that they get less funny throughout the show, rather than more so.
Still, laughs come thick and fast within the dialogue, and Yelland and Cawsey do a wonderful job of portraying a range of different characters, from the caricature-esque Jill Knight and Peter Tatchell, to the more touching role of Thatcher’s gay aide (rather nonsensically revealed at the show’s climax to be none other than David Cameron…). Tedford meanwhile is clearly an accomplished performer who knows exactly how to work his audience, with witty asides delivered with barely a break in the flow, and succeeds in maintaining the tricky balance between satire, silliness, and an element of respect for the controversy of Section 28 in a touching denouement to the piece. Staying in character to greet patrons in the bar after the performance, you get the feeling that he really relishes this role, and it is this that drives the show forward and keeps the affection and good humour of the audience throughout.
For all the political satirical content, the overriding feel of the show is one of little depth; however, this is a fantastically camp, fun and entertaining night of alternative comedy that presents Thatcher as a leading lady with dashes of both sparkle and solitude — a good place to start for those looking to explore the wider scope of London’s theatre scene.
Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho is playing at Theatre503 in conjunction with Boris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Christmas Adventure — see both shows in one day for £16, or Pay What You Can at Sunday performances.