A dominating figure in The Commons and on the stage, Jon Brittain and Matt Tedford have scrubbed the rust off the Iron Lady to bring her back for another year of comedy brilliance. The former Prime Minister (portrayed by Tedford) returns with Queen of Soho, which first arrived at the Fringe in 2014. Four years later, and the UK’s first female PM will be happy to hear that the public remain on her side. Thatcher has forged a permanent status as a Fringe highlight.
A joyous exercise in history-bending and ‘80s musical numbers sees Thatcher about to throw her support behind a deeply homophobic bill in a parliament vote. When she discovers however that the arguments in favour of it are built on scaremongering and falsity (surprise surprise), she faces a moral dilemma which eventually leads her to Soho’s gay club scene. It is there that she must decide whether to retract her blessing of the bill and threaten her position as leader, or to vote it through.
Queen of Soho simultaneously celebrates days of yester-years while also reminding you how unashamedly cruel it could be. The early stages of the show, with Thatcher and her co-stars discussing the ‘immorality of homosexuality’ is deliberately tongue-in-cheek and making a mockery of those who believe such things. However, the words echo what many in 1980s Britain genuinely believed about LGBT+ people, and, though historical accuracy is not the priority here, the likes of Section 28 were very real parts of 1980s Britain. Underneath the razzmatazz and beat lies a sobering story about the persecution suffered by the LGBT+ community not that long ago.
This is not a show to bring you down though. It is a performance that gets a rise out of its audience through a brilliant reclamation of history in the name of those once excluded from it: point in case, the portrait of Winston Churchill discussing his alleged sexual encounters with men during his life. As he puts it, his underground bunker had other uses asides war planning! This is the funniest moment of the performance, with Churchill’s portrait delivering punchline after punchline in a manner that only escalates as it goes on. Prepare to crumple to a heap on your seat.
Maggie is the star however, and the ever-reliable and highly praised Tedford makes the role his own once again. Thatcher is at her strongest when interacting with the audience or making quick asides. Sometimes this need not even be words, but just a knowing raise of the eyebrow or a look of disdain at the latest calamity. The toning down of audience participation compared to last year’s Queen of Game Shows means that there are fewer of these to be had than you might like. There are still more than enough laughs to be found though in an hour of political mick-taking and musical magnificence. Modern references are thrown in amongst features of Thatcher’s actual time as leader, the two often intertwining for maximum effect with the audience. Some of the humour is perhaps too edgy to appease everyone, with the room split more than once after some of the jokes, but the laughter outweighs the shock tenfold.
A dazzling display of lights, a handful of costume changes and a sparse set keep the focus squarely on the performers, much to the show’s benefit. As ways to kickstart your Fringe, you won’t go wrong with this. Queen of Soho is political, has a distinct moral compass and above all else is seriously good fun.
Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho
Pleasance Courtyard – Forth (Venue 33)
2-27th August (Not 8th, 15th, 22nd)
Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic