Britain’s first female prime minister stars in a drag comedy musical extravaganza like no other! On the eve of the vote for Section 28, Maggie gets lost in Soho and accidentally becomes a cabaret superstar, but will she change her mind about the homophobic bill before it’s too late? A camp odyssey about gay rights, the 80s and disco!
Sweeping onstage in a flurry of shiny leather handbag and satin blue rosette, Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho cuts a commanding figure. Played by Matt Tedford, this dragged up Iron Lady is fearsome but ever so slightly likeable, which causes no small amount of discomfort amongst the staunch Tory-haters in the audience. His voice has been finely honed to ape her tense and studied tone and his snake like smile is uncannily accurate. Accompanying him onstage are two members of the ‘chorus’, who spend their time largely dressed as Freddy Mercury lookalikes, but occasionally don scrappy bald-wigs in order to play members of Maggie’s cabinet.
The story of the play begins with a brief rundown of Maggie’s first years in power, and charts with vague truth Maggie’s path towards the issuing of section 28, the government amendment that forbade the ‘promotion of homosexuality in schools.’ The play suggests it was brought in to enable Maggie to curry favour with the members of her party and the Tory voting public, and interestingly shows Maggie as someone who had some doubts about its merits, but acquiesced in order to save herself from a vote of no confidence.
As the play progresses and Maggie tussles with the harridan Jill Knight (who we are all encouraged to boo), we meet some interesting characters of the age, including a hilarious spoof of gay and human rights activist Peter Tatchell. We are also privy to a hilarious conversation between Maggie and Winston Churchill, whose portrait she turns to for advice and who reveals that he is in fact the biggest bender Whitehall has ever seen and his war bunker was built with an entirely different purpose in mind. It was clear that the cast were having a great deal of fun during this scene, playing and improvising, which made it one of the highlights of the show.
The play ends as Maggie wanders through London in turmoil about the section 28 bill. Finding herself in Soho she is rejected by all and sundry who believe her to be a poorly made up transvestite, until finally two gay boys take pity on her and she discovers the marvellous underground world of Soho, and finds herself reborn as cabaret sensation – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho. Progressing gay rights by 20 years overnight she overturns section 28, resigns, and in a flurry her cabinet members all come out and frolic into the sunset. It is a marvellous image and an alternative reality I am sure all present would have embraced wholeheartedly.
There were some excellent one liners in this show which Tedford delivered very well, as well as some very dramatic irony-based jokes, not least a no doubt recent addition about brushing things MPs do under the carpet and letting them slide! The only real criticism (mic problems not withstanding- and which seem par for the course at Latitude) was that the start felt a little slow. Without the context of how she became this marvellous cabaret performer (which we don’t discover until the end), the opening of the show was a little disconnected and slightly alienating. However, it was overall very well performed, in the typically challenging environment of Latitude’s cabaret tent, and on its Edinburgh run this year I am sure it will be a quirky runaway success, if you can put up with feeling fond of Margaret Thatcher, which is quite a tall order I know!