maggie and Howe

Steve Nallon as Margaret Thatcher and Paul Bradley as Geoffrey Howe

Dead Sheep

Belgrade Theatre


DENIS Healey’s famous and rather rude attribution to Geoffrey Howe’s oratorical skills as “like being savaged by a dead sheep” underlies this wonderful play.

It is essentially about an honest and decent man caught between two strong women - Margaret Thatcher (Steve Nallon) and Geoffrey’s wonderful wife Elspeth (Carol Royle), a pair one insider described as “two wasps in a jar”.

The denouement of the play and central to the action is Geoffrey’s speech to the House of Commons after his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister which was so unexpected and a turning point in that Thatcher only survived for three weeks after it was made. His loyalty to her was like a sort of marriage, but he turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Her monumental misjudgement of him cost her dear. I loved the Brian Walden (John Wark) television interview that should have alerted a change in the weather.

So, a political play that centres on action in the 80s? You might think that there is nothing here but history but far from it. This play resonates down the decades like Big Ben across the Thames. Europe is the stumbling block, then as now, and Ian Gow described an attempted exit even then as like reversing a vasectomy!

Brexit gives this play wings; a new prime minister , the second female in the job, is another, and one who appears to be hell bent on excluding cabinet and parliament from the decision-making process.

There is a pile of humour obviously and one scene in particular had brilliant slapstick timing when the food chain of command just before the Madrid Summit of 1984 is attempting to get Mrs Thatcher to make up her mind about the ECU, a string of cursory phone conversations between Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley) and Nigel Lawson (Graham Seed) to arrange a meeting. I’d forgotten Bernard Ingham, straight-talking Yorkshire press secretary (Christopher Villiers).  So, six actors tackle the range of parts. It is economical but, oh, so powerful. Brilliant and simple staging with the actors moving the furniture about as they talk makes it dynamic, use of music to indicate which of the big houses we inhabit, and some interesting characterisation to indicate which of a range of characters is speaking. This is a must-see if ever there was one .Directed by Ian Talbot Dead Sheep runs to 22-10-16

Jane Howard


Dead Sheep is at Malvern Theatres 14-19 November


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