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Drama Queens


Moira Buffini’s satirical comedy Handbagged imagines what may have happened at the Queen’s infamous weekly meetings with Margaret Thatcher. But what do the two actors playing different aspects of HM think about royalty? Susan Penhaligon plays Q, an older version of the Queen. Caroline Harker plays Liz, a younger version of the Queen.

What interested you about this production of Handbagged?

Susan: I’m very interested in politics and the play made me laugh. I’ve never done political satire like this before. And who’s going to turn down the opportunity to play the Queen?

Caroline: I thought it was very funny when I read it. I have three friends who’ve been in other productions of Handbagged so it was in my head when it came up. It comes off the page so easily, but it is a challenge.

How do you feel about playing a real person?

Susan: It’s wonderful to play a real person. You’ve got a blue print. You have to watch documentaries and look at pictures, but it’s a physical blueprint. The challenge is to make them real and not a Spitting Image caricature.

Caroline: It was interesting at the read-through (on the first day of rehearsals) because you realise this other person is suddenly doing the read-through. It’s you being the puppet to this other person. You have less control over the whole thing. The rhythm of the person you’re playing is completely different. I’m trying to work out how much to stick to being the Queen and how much to go with the drama.

Have you met the Queen?

Susan: No. I met the Queen Mother once at a film premiere. I live on a houseboat and recently the loo exploded and it went all over my framed photo of me with the Queen Mother. I got it off, thought.

Caroline: I have been in the same space as the Queen. I’ve been to two garden parties at Buckingham Palace because my mother is on a charity board. The food was lovely. I remember iced coffee and tiny sandwiches. The royal family came out on to a sort of raised terrace area. I remember the Silver Jubilee when I was at school and that day we were allowed to walk to the end of the drive and wave flags as the Queen drove by.

Have you met any other royals?

Susan: I met Camilla once after doing panto in Bath. She was very pleasant. All you do in those situations is say hello and smile.

Caroline: I met Princess Margaret. She came to see a play I was in. It was upstairs at the Vaudeville Theatre (in London) and it was very relaxed. She had a cigarette In a cigarette holder and she wore heeled silver sandals and had chestnut hair and a frail beauty. I saw Lady Diana a couple of times.

What do you think of the royal family?

Susan: I’m actually very pro the royal family. They’re the most wonderful tourist attraction this country has. And I think we have the kind of democracy we have because of the royal family. They’re maintaining those beautiful palaces, our heritage. I think the Queen is a very liberal person. Ultimately, the Queen is a true Christian. I’m not sure how that goes with my left of centre politics sometimes.

Caroline: I don’t race to every occasion and I’m not interested in what they wear. I’m aware Meghan gets hideous treatment. The Queen is now incredibly popular. They withstand everything through dignified silence and in some ways that’s quite a good lesson to learn in life.

The production of Handbagged can be seen in our Main House 24 April – 11 May.