On the night of the televised 7-way leadership debate, Dead Sheep at the Park Theatre makes you realise how Margaret Thatcher would have wiped the floor with all of them.

In much of the political drama across London in the run up to the election, Thatcher is envisioned as a monster, but this play ranks her alongside Churchill as the most significant politican of the 20th century: although it’s about the pivotal resignation speech her long-loyal lieutenant Geoffrey Howe made on 13 November 1990, which precipitated her dethronement, there’s no sense of triumphalism.

In TV journalist Jonathan Maitland’s clever construction, the echoes in modern politics are deafening: Thatcher differed from her ministers in that she was against joining a single European currency and many of her suspicions about the EU were voiced last night by Nigel Farage in the TV debate.

Two pieces of genius casting make the play: Steve Nallon was the caricature voice of Thatcher in the Spitting Image satirical puppet show, but here – in a pretty terrible rumpled suit in which the blessed Margaret would not have been seen dead – he plays her as naturalistically as possible but with the masculine frame and presence which enhances her dominance of the men in her entourage and makes his performance easily the equal of Fenella Woolgar in Handbagged or Haydn Gwynne in The Audience.

Choosing James Wilby as Geoffrey Howe gives him a handsome, romantic edge not often accorded to politicans and makes the sub-plot of his solid and enduring marriage to determined feminist Elspeth (Jill Baker, spot on), deputy head of the Equal Opportunities Commision and a persistent thorn in the Thatcher flesh, both fascinating and endearing.

Maitland’s narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time too much, but a trio of ministerial aides explains it to you, so it’s not necessary to have followed the history, and some of the cameo performances by Graham Seed, John Wark and especially Tim Wallers as Alan ‘Shagger’ Clarke are so delicious you’d really like more of them.

It’s not on the grand scale of the National Theatre’s This House – but it is rather good. Well worth a visit.

 

Dead Sheep continues at the Park Theatre until 9 May. Tickets from the theatre website, £20 or less. Promotional code ‘CONSERVATIVE25’ gives a 25% discount. 

The Wells Terrace exit of Finsbury Park tube station will be closed from 21 April, so allow extra time as latecomers are not admitted. 

This review written for Londonist.com