Review - Shakespeare's Margaret Thatcher (Drayton Arms Theatre)

If Shakespeare was alive today, who would he be writing plays about? That is the fascinating question which Wayside Theatre Company's Shakespeare's Margaret Thatcher sets out to answer.

In a sparsely furnished room in the middle of what seems to be purgatory, William Shakespeare is hosting a dinner party. Well into his four hundred and second year of death, Shakespeare surrounds himself with famous historical figures including a droll Gertrude Stein, strong willed Aphra Behn and even Socrates, who always seems to have some wisdom to share. The renowned dead are gathered together to take part in the first reading of Shakespeare's newest play, which charts the downfall of ex British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. 

In typical Shakespearean fashion, Shakespeare's Margaret Thatcher operates as a play within the play, with the mismatched dinner party cohort assuming roles as major figures in Thatcher's premiership. It must be said that playwright Ciaran Barata-Hynes' emulation of typical Shakespearean tropes is brilliant, with cross gender casting, limited use of sets and props, and plenty of jokes for good measure, courtesy of Thatcher's very own fool, of course. Barata-Hynes even ensures that Shakespeare's newest opus adapts the Early Modern English of his other literary offerings. This is an interesting touch, previously used to great effect in Mike Bartlett's controversial King Charles III, which adds a sense of authenticity to the proceedings. That being said, at points more care could be taken to ensure that the imitation of Shakespeare's language is as accurate as possible, as word order is mangled unnaturally at points, making some of the dialogue hard to follow. Additionally, without the epic battles and sweeping romances of Shakespeare's other tragedies, Margaret Thatcher's political ventures are understandably static and occasionally become a little bit turgid. Even Thatcher's speechwriter Ronald Millar, taking on the Fool mantle, is relatively restrained. Given the colourful array of outrageous characters dining with Shakespeare, his play's prolonged focus on slimy Thatcher eta politicians seems comparatively heavy.

Writer and director Ciaran Barata-Hynes plays the skittish William Shakespeare well, exuding an air of fragility seeped in several decades' worth of self-doubt. Fretting over what his peers will think of his new play, he cautiously cajoles everyone into their parts, casting liberal twentieth century poet Dorothy Parker as the Iron Lady. In her dual roles Elizabeth Pilcher is impressive; as entertaining as the witty wordsmith as she is prickly as the PM of old. Similarly, taking on the roles of Michael Heseltine and John Major, as well as restoration era writer Aphra Behn, Zara Walwyn is an intriguing presence on stage, whilst Christopher Grace makes American founding father Benjamin Franklin seem like an ideal dinner party guest. 

All in all Shakespeare's Margaret Thatcher has a fascinating and ambitious premise, but it could do with a bit of fine tuning. Margaret Thatcher, is such an interesting character, and it takes no stretch of imagination to believe that Shakespeare would want to write about her if the two were contemporaries. Surrounded by cronies who abandon her to her execrating subjects and scheming political adversaries, Thatcher could be compared to Richard II, or Julius Caesar, and her demise certainly makes her an interesting, if not hugely sympathetic, character. But Shakespeare's Margaret Thatcher also introduces a ton of brilliantly fun historical figures, all mixing together in the afterlife, and the contrast between the play's high energy dinner party antics, and the bristling political drama of Thatcher and co. feels jarring and disjointed. Barata-Hynes' idea is a riveting one, and the cast are versatile and gamesome, and given that the play was devised within one month, it's a strong piece without a doubt, but with a bit more refining, Shakespeare's Margaret Thatcher could become remarkable.