Katie Mccullough Talks and Writes

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“Maggie’s End” April 15, 2009

“Maggie’s End” was performed at the Shaw Theatre of which I’ve not been to before and luckily it’s a stones throw from King’s Cross which makes my life a lot easier.

I was really looking forward to this production and I wanted to see an audience with fire in the pit of their belly. And I did. It just seemed that it surfed on that idea and plot was a glimpse of an unachievable idea.

“Maggie’s End” presents us with the (extremely plausible) idea that Margaret Thatcher dies and is granted by King Charles to have a state funeral. This announcement divides the country (as it does now) as to how her death should be commemorated or celebrated. The premise I find fascinating because it’s something that the country will have to deal with sooner or later. The strong performances suited the piece with Mark Wingett leading the way as Leon with his superb portrayal of a man passionate about politics but also broken by his beliefs as well.

What I really enjoyed about this play was the guts it had to pan the story out, its cavalier approach to making a stand for strong politics and comeuppance. But I think that’s what my problem was. It was all swagger and no fully thought out plot. The twists and ‘surprises’ were delivered in such an underhand way that you rarely cared for the characters in question or were even given a moment to consider the consequences. The lack of relationship status between Leon and his daughter, Rosa, (who coincidentally is the New Labour MP in charge of the funeral and sleeping with the Home Secretary) means that you see no change in her moral standards. If there were an ounce of chemistry within the script to direct us to at least believe some of the spiel Rosa deals her father then it would be another story. If there was more of an emotional lure then the fall would be greater; the lack of crescendo leading to characters’ arrest made it fall flat and missed vital impact which would have made this piece perfect.

Structure wise it lacked cuebite as the scenes got shorter and the phonecall scene where four characters spoke separate conversations lacked energy when it should have been one of the more exciting parts of the play. The use of music worked wonderfully with The Smiths, Billy Bragg and Beats International harking back to the past but ever so relevant today but even that irked as the decision to use the same snippet of music to aid the scene changes was repeated more than enough times. At times sluggish with the Home Secretary’s scenes being played out as if the room took over the whole stage but on the flip side Leon’s living room was self contained and really dropped you in it, completely believable.

The passion was there; it’s a touchy subject. What message it portrays is inevitable, Thatcher will get the state funeral no matter whose watch she dies on. Audience members joining in with the heckling and venom made the atmosphere electric but you can’t rely on predictable passion to make the play flow till the end. Infuse it, thread it like a throbbing vein but don’t push it so the audience are holding the crux of the knowledge. As a twenty-five year old viewing the play it did little for me emotionally except tell me facts and give me insight to her complex reign. But trying to throw thread bare human relationship stories and seeing if they stick don’t make it a fully rounded performance. It’s a half-baked family drama with a strong undercurrent of politics. Leon as a has-been politics lecturer seems too convenient, his daughter being the Home Secretary’s secretary seems too fitting and keeping it in the family the step-mother is an avid and staunch campaigner. It’s all too neat and sailed on regardless due to the fact that when the Thatcher-bashing ensued you were guaranteed the audience would respond with distinct volume. There were some fantastic dramatic moments that will stay with me such as the audience joining in when characters sang protest songs and the ferocious verbal attack Leon directs at the Home Secretary. But they were few and far between. I wanted more of the guts and angst that you heard from the audience, that was alluded to on stage. But it came across in fits and bursts which disappointed me because it was there. It just didn’t seem to fit the plot.

It’s steeped in memories but rams them down your throat rather than invite. It’s as if a bunch of people wrote their memories down and the playwrights have regurgitated them and pinned them on relevant pawns they needed. Whilst I willed this play to be more slick and grip me it lost its way when he story got too big and relied on the two-dimensional characters. When a play throws the mercy of its characters to the audience they have to at least care about them. It lost its steam and way through the convoluted plot and there was only one way for the play to end; the plotters plan is foiled and New Labour wins. Personally it would have held greater resonance if they succeeded in marching alongside Thatcher’s funeral; the two classes side by side causing disruption but as it happens it’s decided that the focus of attention is on the human element. Sadly, the weaker characteristic of the play. Leon and his wife are carted off under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and it just draws a line under the fact that this play is a bundle of ideas and rants and not coherent enough to stand proud throughout as the lead up would expect.

At first the feeling is so strong and it wimps out with a depleted ending which mars the overall outcome. See it if you know nothing of what tyranny played out in the past and learn… but don’t see if if you’re expecting a slick production with a strong emotional and moral punch plot wise. I know some people will dismiss my remarks as missing the point but I’m not knocking the content, there’s no way any playwright can avoid that essence. What jarred for me was the portrayal of the message and how tightly wound and restrained, almost tangled in itself with the myriad of narratives, it played out to be.


3 Responses to ““Maggie’s End””

  1. Thanks for posting such a detailed and thoughtful review – I enjoyed reading it. Strangely enough, I reviewed a play called ‘The Death of Margaret Thatcher’ about a year ago, at a pub theatre called ‘The Red Lion’, It also imagined a possible scenario following the death, but was more about the media than anything else, not at all about issues raised in the play you saw.

  2. Thanks for reading Sheila! I can imagine it being a playwright’s dream to thrash out the reactions to her death but it seems to be an unfinished dream because no one knows quite how to end it. I read about ‘The Death Of Margaret Thatcher’, going to mosey over to your blog to see what you thought of it. The issues were there and strong but way too overclouded by the notion rather than the idea being embedded into a play. I have to admit I’ve never been to The Red Lion but I hear lots about it, is it a good place you’ll go to again?

  3. Katie, I used to write for a website called ‘My Cultural Life’, and I reviewed fringe theatre . You can access it from my blog side-bar( I was prompted to restore it by searching for other things I’d seen at the Red Lion ) Yes, I think it’s a good pub with at iny theatre and the productions were excellent. I might go again, when I get the time but I’ve been busy with other things recently – mainly for Dimsum, the Chinese website I write for.


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