Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho at Wilton’s Music Hall
It’s 1988, the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of Section 28, a controversial new law that bans the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain’s schools. Maggie has already taken on the BBC, teachers and the unemployed, and she’s running out of people to victimise. Thankfully, she’s got the gays. All week, protests over the new legislation have filled London’s streets – the prime minister moves through marches unphased, a notoriously unempathetic character.
A deliciously camp Maggie (played by Matt Tedford) outlines this scenario and follows swiftly with an aside, “I’m setting the scene!” Like Maggie’s fictionalised character, this show is unstable in its identity – is it cabaret or panto? The production borrows elements from both, but teeters towards pantomime with fourth-wall breakings, audience engagement and a plot that comes secondary to one-liners. Many of Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho’s laughs come at the expense of world immersion. As the play dances fancifully with form, we’re split between two times: 1988 and now. Always, we view the past through the informed lens of the present day. This moulds the show’s satirical base: by transposing our current “progressive” values onto history we’re able to expose the injustice of Thatcher’s act(ions), the irony of her rationale in promoting a sanction that bans the promotion of homosexuality on a moral basis.
Tedford’s Thatcher is endlessly funny. Her delightfully off-key vocals hit their mark comically. Moreover, she’s endearing in her conservative blue dress and broad dissent. Her blonde quiff glued in place, blue eyeshadow and rouged cheeks add colour to her quips, a departure from our standard grey, 80s-era prime minister. Her accompanying members of parliament, two hunchbacks with raddled wisps of grey, spit ghoulish slurs that beautifully belie their own entrenched homosexuality.
In Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, creators Jon Brittain and Matt Tedford take Britain’s first female PM, the longest serving of the 20th century, and envision a (historically selective) alternate reality. One rainy night in Soho, makeup running and mistaken for a man, Maggie enters a gay bar and accidentally launches her career as “the Margaret Thatcher of cabaret”. In this reality, Section 28 was never enacted and its repercussions aren’t still felt today.
The show uses a highly fictionalised Thatcher as a novel entrance point, but its message that everyone should be treated with respect – not just tolerated but loved – is tired. Brexit-incorporating rewrites of 2013’s script are half-hearted. And overall, this is preaching to the converted. Anyone who pays to see tonight’s show is already woke to its wisdom. So what does it add to our discourse around LGBT+ rights? The answer, likely nothing – but on a surface level, this 80s singalong’s a rollicking way to spend an evening.
Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 26th March until 30th March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.