After running out of ideas one day about what to wear to fancy dress party, 27-year-old actor Matt Tedford threw on a skirt, heels and twinset, and with a handbag over his arm, went along as our only woman PM.
On opening the door, his impressed host declared, "Well you’ve clearly won". Tedford found himself channeling Thatcher in all her drollness through the party, and a new career was born. Indeed, since taking last year's Edinburgh festival by storm, Tedford’s performance in this genius 90-minute cabaret has been described as the best Mrs T impersonation since Spitting Image’s iconic Steve Nallon by none other than comic Arthur Smith.
The Spitting Image comparisons do not there, for in Tedford and writing partner Jon Brittain ‘s camp cabaret, we get not only a bawdy night of uproarious comedy but also a gutsy irreverent political punch the likes of which seem sorely missing from the bland repertoire of so much modern comedy.
Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho
takes us back to 1988 and reimagines the story of the Conservative government’s much-hated Section 28. The first major piece of homophobic legislation in 100 years was brought in amid a tidal wave of tabloid homophobia that accompanied the emergence of AIDS and played very nicely, thank you very much, into the political ambitions of the then-government, who wished to portray the left as a danger to children.
Queen of Soho takes us into an alternate reality where Margaret Thatcher, instead of driving through the legislation, is alive and hoofing it in on the cabaret scene after being forced out of her car during an anti-Section 28 demo, ending up in a gay bar where, armed with a G&T or five, she takes to the stage to sing It’s Raining Men
and realises she really quite likes it.
The story is told by Maggie with the aid of engaging supporting performers Ed Yelland and Nico Lennon, who play everyone from dotty members of the house of Lords to Ian McKellen, Peter Tatchell, Section 28 creator Tory peer Jill Knight and a talking portrait of Winston Churchill who is shocked to hear homosexuality has been legalized in the UK - he rather wishes it had been in his day…
The evening is peppered with disco numbers and infused with a strong whiff of panto. We’re encouraged to boo and hiss Jill Knight, for instance, but the writers aren’t afraid to send up the left either. Haringey council is portrayed as being run solely by lesbians and Peter Tatchell is portrayed as a swaggering God Save the Queen singing Punk rocker who stops off to fight Section 28 in the midst of saving whales and fighting apartheid.
As well as being an evening of genuinely hilarious nonsense that left me crying with laughter on several occasions, the show also packs a surprising political and emotional punch, quite possibly because although the horrendous events of the late 80s saw the British gay community demonised as dangerous vermin, the events have, bafflingly, rarely been portrayed on stage.
They are an important part of contemporary gay history that still affects the way young LGBT kids are educated today. Seeing the insanity of the right-leaning media trying to suggest the kiddies book ‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’ was being used by Labour to pervert children, then exposed as a gentle teaching aide only available in one support centre, is still powerful.
Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho
is a rollicking good laugh, no matter what side of the political spectrum you sit on. In its co writer Jon Brittain and fellow writer and leading lady, Matt Tedford, the production showcases genuinely impressive new comic talent. The latter has an immense natural comic talent and with any luck should become a more familiar face on the nation's TV screens - both in and out of Thatch drag. Get a ticket while you can.
Verdict: Five stars
Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho plays at the Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday 21st March (with two shows on the 21st) and returns to the Edinburgh Festival in August. Twitter: @sohothatcher
Pictures used in this post taken by Mihaela Bodlovic.