The Death Of Margaret Thatcher @ Courtyard Theatre, London

cast list
Alan Freestone
John Elnaugh
Pamela Hall
Alex Topham Tyerman
Leanne Elms
Craig Murray
Ian Mairs
Russell Anthony

directed by
June Abbott
Tom Green’s new play has the perfect tabloid baiting title. It’s already been the subject of a Daily Mail wig-out and has managed to generate the kind of pre-opening publicity most fringe productions of this scale could only dream of.

Can the play live up to the hype? Well, no. No, it can’t. But then it’s difficult to see how it could have and given the way Green chooses to handle the material, his play could actually have been about the death of any major public figure. His use of Maggie is, in many ways, arbitrary – because, instead of dealing, in any real way, with Thatcher’s political legacy, Green chooses to focus on a group of characters and their personal reactions to the Iron Lady’s demise.

So we are presented with three intersecting but unconnected stories. There’s the news reader who’s job it is to announce the death to the public, the funeral director who will be overseeing the embalming of the body, and Hoagy, a young man who is driven to seek the services of a psychiatrist, so disturbed is he over the news.

The one uniting thread and the thing that caused the Mail to get in such a tizzy is the story of the man who is walking all the way down to London from the North with the sole intention of spitting on Thatcher’s grave. Along the way he is joined by a large band of followers. This is the only real nod to the anger and the hatred that Thatcher once, and often still, engenders in the British public, but we never actually see this character, instead we only hear about him through the news coverage of his march.

There’s an entertaining media satire at the heart of this play and, if Green had narrowed his focus to the way the media handled the event, it might have made for a tighter and more exciting watch. There are echoes of channel 4’s newsroom comedy Drop The Dead Donkey in the media scenes and the news readers are very entertainingly portrayed by Alex Topham-Tyerman, Leanne Elms and Craig Murray. The way they deliver their lines, complete with all the pauses, the overly serious nodding and the inane repetition that characterises most television news reporting, is a joy.

Elsewhere things don’t gel quite as successfully. John Elnaugh is suitably creepy as the funeral director; but though it’s a well written part, it felt like it belonged in another play. Alan Freestone is also very entertaining as the man who suffers a mini meltdown when he hears the news of Thatcher’s death. But though Green uses the resulting therapy sessions to articulate Hoagy’s conflicting feelings about the woman, his attraction and repulsion, this is soon abandoned in favour of a series of surreal dream sequences, all involving a lack of clothing – a further treat for the Daily Mail brigade.

The play, being staged at the Courtyard, a versatile fringe space in a converted library in Shoreditch, runs for just over an hour. It raises a few laughs and makes a few sharp points about the manner in which the media handle such things, but, while you have to give the man credit for tackling the subject, the provocative title saddles the play with expectations that it was always going to be a struggle to meet.

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