Take Art and Pip Utton have brought professional, provocative theatre to a rural location. Rejoice.
"Are we all Thatcher's children?"
Pip Utton’s ‘Playing Maggie’ is challenging in ways that are disturbing and profound. My companion and I, at Dulverton’s Town Hall, viewed the evening very differently – in part because we had different expectations. My friend hoped for more insights into her humanity – I saw several instances, especially regarding dementia and motherhood – and remembered others, particularly her tears as she finally drove away from her back-stabbing colleagues. ‘It was treachery with a smile on its face.’ (Though honestly, what did she expect?)
As Pip reminded us, Margaret Thatcher polarised opinion. Those who loved her, and those who loathed her, did so with passion. His performance – brilliantly observed and eschewing caricature - was not going to change our opinions of her. What it did do was remind us of the effect of her personality and policies. For some of us that was very uncomfortable indeed.
The play had four sections – a dressing-room scene enabling us to observe Pip Utton’s tremendous talent for transformation; an opening address by ‘Maggie’ touching on her attitudes to the job she did; a Q and A session with nothing off-limits and a final scene back in the dressing room. Some technical gremlins seemed to bug the first and last episodes – I thought the first needed tightening up and will say more about the last later.
The Q and A session is at the heart of the performance, brilliantly demonstrating the supreme political talent of answering the question that should have been asked. Here the audience shapes the experience of the evening by their approach to ‘Maggie’ and, adding another layer, their approach to the theatre. The tenor of the Dulverton audience was, in the main, deferential and affectionate. If ‘Maggie’ insisted on a particular form of address, most people capitulated with good humour. After the play Pip spoke of other audiences who were so hostile to his subject that security had to be called. Courageously, armed only with prodigious research and matching talent, he relishes the cut and thrust of those performances, flying by the seat of his pants in the face of enduring obdurate loathing and rage.
Watch Pip Utton in Playing Maggie at Chaffcombe Village Hall on Friday 20 May.