Edinburgh Fringe Shows: The Iron Lady

Photo courtesy of Andy Doornhein
by Peter Callaghan

If you want something said, ask a man to say it. If you want something done, ask a woman to do it. Or as veteran Fringe performer Pip Utton more eloquently put it as his alter ego Mrs T in Playing Maggie… The Iron Lady at The Pleasance (Beneath): “It is the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays all the eggs.” And what a golden egg Utton has hatched in his latest one-man show which earned him The Stage Special Award for Acting Excellence 2015 and sits snugly in his nest of self-proclaimed monodramas about real-life historical figures such as Churchill, Dickens and Hitler. All of which bear his trademark wit, intelligence and wisdom.

Kicking off with an ironic blast of Isn’t She Lovely? by Stevie Wonder, after which fictional actor Simon Sherwood’s An Actor Prepares monologue was rudely and repeatedly interrupted by a low-voiced Thatcher heckling from a sedentary position as he transformed from player to premier by the donning of a white pearl necklace and an immaculately coiffed blonde wig – later, when asked what advice she would give Donald Trump, Utton as Sherwood as Thatcher remarked dryly: “My hairdresser’s number” – the play unfolded in four self-contained sequences which offered different insights into what made her such a divisive figure in being both electable and detestable in equal measure.

Photo: pip-utton.co.uk
Photo: pip-utton.co.uk

The first, an ideological speech delivered at a lectern, prefaced by a slap on the wrists to the audience who were ordered to make amends for their lukewarm welcome by standing up and clapping as befits a woman of her position. The second, an improvised Q&A which demonstrated Utton’s complete mastery of character and content as he delivered succinct, often funny and always seductively persuasive replies to topical questions on issues such as Iraq and the refugee crisis as well as more personal enquiries about why she undertook lessons to lower the tone of her voice and whether she had any regrets (her answer to which was unsurprisingly of the Edith Piaf variety).

The third, a heartfelt monologue by fictional actor Simon Sherwood who after having a flashback about a comment made by his brother “don’t forget what she did to dad” stepped out of character and talked directly to the audience about his pride in and the pain experienced by his late coal-mining father. Followed by a brief but fitting finale during which Simon reapplied Mrs T’s wig and delivered a series of infamous quotes: a warning from her father about thoughts shaping our actions, habits, character and ultimately our destiny; her St Francis of Assisi-inspired “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony” speech which she delivered on the steps of Number 10 after being elected as the UK’s first female Prime Minister in 1979; and the steely one-liner which gave birth to her Iron Lady nickname: “the lady’s not for turning”.

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