Dead Sheep, Park Theatre - review: There's nothing woolly about this debut play on Geoffrey Howe's historic savagery of Margaret Thatcher

This debut play by former BBC reporter Jonathan Maitland effectively conveys the drama of Thatcher-era politics

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The Independent Culture

Denis Healey once compared an attack by Geoffrey Howe to "being savaged by a dead sheep." Sir Geoffrey later showed that there was steel beneath the woolly exterior when he made his resignation speech in the House of Commons, a performance that effectively brought an end to the premiership of his erstwhile friend, Margaret Thatcher.

Watching the speech and seeing Thatcher sit impassively by him as he destroyed her was so dramatic, it would be hard for any stage rendition to beat that real-life drama.

But this fine, and often very funny, debut play by former BBC reporter Jonathan Maitland certainly conveys the drama of that moment, and of key episodes in the Thatcher-Howe relationship. Most interestingly, it focuses on the mutual distaste between Thatcher and Howe’s liberal-leaning wife Elspeth. It was rumoured that Elspeth Howe helped to draft the resignation speech. She is played with excellent, wry knowingness by Jill Baker, and James Wilby conveys well Geoffrey Howe’s troubled decency. The casting of Steve Nallon as Thatcher (he voiced her on Spitting Image) leaves this reviewer conflicted. Nallon is brilliant. It’s not just the voice that is uncanny, the walk, the glare, every gesture brings her back to life. But is it right to play Thatcher as a man in drag? Allied to director Ian Talbot’s dated and unperceptive remark in the programme that “she was a bit like a man”, it leaves an uncomfortable taste.

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