Fenella Woolgar has Tea With Wilma

Fenella Woolgar TWW

The monarch – Liz.

Her most powerful subject – Maggie.

Two enduring icons born six months apart. One destined to rule, the other elected to lead.  But when the stiff upper lip softened and the gloves came off, which one had the upper hand?

Handbagged is the ‘wickedly funny’ (Evening Standard) new play that opens the clasp on the relationship between two giants of the 20th Century.

Moira Buffini’s ‘irresistibly mischievous’ (The Independent) comedy speculates on that most provocative of questions: What did the world’s most powerful women talk about behind closed palace doors?

I caught up with Fenella Woolgar, who plays Margaret Thatcher in Handbagged, on a lovely sunny day for a cup of tea and a natter in the garden.


For those who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell me about yourself and some of your career highlights?
I’m a character actress (but what strange creatures don’t have a character I wonder?). My highlights include a wonderful break playing Agatha in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things and another Agatha – Christie in Doctor Who. If I’m ever recognised on the bus – it’s normally from those two. My own highlight list would look somewhat different and include lots of lovely whacky roles with different voices/ physicalities etc that nobody’s ever heard of but that are manna to us character actors..Radio is gloriously freeing – you’re not tied to class or size nor to being seen just for the same sort of role you did last time. I’m only really interested in acting if I can truly transform in as many ways as possible if that doesn’t sound too drearily serious…


Can you tell me about the show Handbagged and the role you play within it?
Handbagged is a satirical comedy look at the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. I play Mags – Margaret Thatcher in her Downing Street years. It’s loads of fun whatever your political persuasion. And although it’s heaven for those who knew the 80s and all the political characters, it’s still a treat for those who didn’t. It’s lovely seeing a sea of laughing faces each night.


Who has been your favourite prime minister?
Carumba – Well it would have been fun to be around in the time of Gladstone and Disraeli…


If I asked your friends to describe you in three words, what might they say?
Well my fabulous friend Moira Ross said Wise, Wonderful Wiggy… (first two self explanatory, as for the third – I once wore a ludicrously high early 18th Century wig in a play we did and had to dip to get through the stage doorways).. I think most would say funny, passionate, not altogether stupid….Although clearly too stupid to work out that that’s more than 3 words.


What has been the funniest/most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I had to take my clothes off in a play at Derby Playhouse. I don’t mind my figure but it did feel odd pushing a trolley round the supermarket near the theatre wondering which of these very ordinary 50 somethings had seen me naked. It was a little unnerving – I shan’t do it again. Corpsing on stage in a serious play is agony – particularly when the whole cast go – it happened (just the once mind..) in Time and the Conways at the National – in the deathly serious Act 2 when one rogue member of the audience decided to find everything perversely funny – it was dreadful -but as the lovely late Roger Hammond said – ‘Think of the 11 year old boy in the gods who’s coming to the theatre for the first time’ – that generally stops it quick smart.


Do you have a favourite play or musical that means a lot to you?
Too many to mention but I played Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals at RADA and would love to have another go at that. What a silly wonderful glorious play.


If you could be a man for the day, what theatre role would you like to have a go at playing?
Cyrano – I’ve the nose for it after all. Willy Loman. It would be churlish not to have a go at the Dane and Lear, particularly on dear Mr Shakespeare’s birthday.


Thanks for having Tea With Wilma


Click here to read my 4 Star review of Handbagged

For tickets to see Handbagged at the Vaudeville Theatre, click here