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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 11:07 GMT
The razzle dazzle of Maggie
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Here's one for you - a grocer's daughter from Grantham rises to become one of the most powerful leaders in the world, helps bring the Cold War to an end, but in a classic betrayal of Shakespearean proportions is brought low by her closest colleagues.

Ali Belbin performs a scene from Thatcher the Musical
The show deals with Mrs Thatcher as a war leader

It really was only a matter of time before somebody did Margaret Thatcher: the musical.

And the all-female Foursight Theatre company (previous productions: Boadicea, Mae West - Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It!, Hitler's Women) have had the good fortune - the foresight, in fact, to get there first.

It may not have the big budget clout of a West End production but what the group lacks in fancy sets it more than makes up for in the Maggie count. There are eight - yes, eight - different actresses playing Lady T at various stages of her life.

First of all we meet Young Maggie the grocer's daughter, played by Julie Baker, all pigtails and 'cution lessons (note to cast: Grantham is not Oop North!).

Lady and the camp

Twin Set Maggie - who loves to flirt and show off her shapely legs as she powers her way through the party ranks.

Can you tell Margaret Thatcher's life story in 100 words? What music would you use?

Then comes Toni Midlane's Power Suit Maggie, standing imperiously at the door of Number 10 as her political acolytes perform the high-kicking Cabinet Shuffle below. (Disappointingly the women playing Geoffrey Howe and Keith Joseph don't attempt anything more than a cursory impression.)

I think my favourite was Britannia Maggie - played by Kath Burlinson - who kicks off the second half with a wonderfully unhinged punk number - "No! No! No!" - vividly capturing Lady T's lurch into Euroscepticism.

But with anything up to half a dozen Maggies on stage at once, it feels at times a little like the Monty Python sketch set on Alan Whicker Island, with the actors all trying to outdo each other to pull off the best impression.

Voice coaching

The cast received voice coaching from Steve Nallon, who played Lady Thatcher on Spitting Image, and it is that mid-period, basso profundo, hectoring Maggie that they have all gone for, with varying degrees of success (I could swear I heard Enoch Powell's staccato tones creeping in at one point).

Toni Midlane performs a scene from the new theatrical production Thatcher the Musical
Lady Thatcher is portrayed at the height of political power

There is no sign of the more high-pitched early Thatcher, even though the script refers to the fact that she dropped an octave during the course of her political career.

I was also slightly puzzled by Narrator Maggie, who arrives on stage in a giant handbag, sporting a shapeless black dress and a blue fibreglass hairdo, and lurks about in the wings commenting on the action ("I really did say that!") and occasionally joining in with the musical numbers.

The cast and directors took three years to devise the show and it is extremely well-researched.

'Where there is discord...'

They really know their Iron Lady.

The script weaves in extracts from her most famous speeches - from St Francis of Assisi on the steps of Number 10 to her final exit from the party leadership contest.

Of course, the real Lady Thatcher is still a figure that divides opinion sharply and there was, apparently, a nostalgic cry of "Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!" - from one section of the audience at the first night's performance.

The production does its best to be even-handed, steering the line between being an out-and-out celebration of Lady Thatcher - the flag-waving scene with a flak-jacketed Maggie atop a tank could almost have come from the sort of revue you might see at the Tory party conference - and her darker moments. The sinking of the Belgrano, the poll tax riots, mass unemployment - it's all here.

But only as it reaches its finale does it really tumble off the political fence, as Diva Maggie, played by Lorna Laidlaw, emerges to perform a nightmarish, swivelled-eyed vision of the present about how "we are all Thatcherites now".

If you can live with the slightly scary image of eight Margaret Thatchers in purple feather boas singing a rousing gospel number about economic policy then this is definitely the show for you.

  • Thatcher: The Musical is on at Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick University, Coventry, until 11 February.

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