Fringe Box



Review: Dead Sheep – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 22 Nov, 2016
Updated on: 22 Nov, 2016
Steve Naylor as Margaret Thatcher

Steve Nallon as Margaret Thatcher

By Ferenc Hepp

This week at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre we are again in the realms of a piece based on real events, but despite an overheard comment from someone in the audience that you have to be at least 50-years-of-age in order to understand this play, I can happily say that I managed – despite not having reach that milestone, well not just yet anyway. Despite my youth I can still remember some of the events that took place which this show is based on.

Dead Sheep is Jonathan Maitland’s first play, and I must say, compared to some,  uninspiring productions from established playwrights, this was quite the opposite.

Ian Talbot directed this piece. He was the artistic director of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 2008, and he brings Maitland’s writing to life with a minimal set, but plenty of wit, pace and physical humour.

We are in the 1980-s and this is the story of Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, brought about by Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech. However, Howe is the main protagonist here as opposed to Thatcher.

He is played by Paul Bradley (probably best known for playing Nigel Bates in EastEnders for six years) and Thatcher is played by Steve Nallon, who was a founding member of the famous Spitting Image team in the 1980-s and has often been seen in his Thatcher persona on TV.

The relationship between Thatcher and Howe them comes across very clearly and, despite Howe having been a rather ‘uncharismatic’ character (he was compared to a “dead sheep” by Dennis Healey in parliament), we get an interesting insight into the process he went through which led to his famous speech in the newly televised, at the time, House of Commons.

Nallon’s extreme make up did scare me slightly at first, but it was something I got used to as the play went along and his physicality was consistent. It was also interesting to discover more about Elspeth Howe (Geoffrey’s wife) played by Carol Royle.

It seems like theirs wasn’t a very affectionate relationship, however, there was a very clear frostiness between her and Thatcher, which was portrayed well by Royle and Nallon. The three other actors on stage (Graham Seed, Christopher Villiers and John Wark) play numerous other characters in politics at the time, as well as anonymous “ministers” who narrate and move the story along, a clever touch which works well.

A particular favourite of mine was Villiers’ amusing portrayal of Bernard Ingham.

The setting is the 1980s, however some of the topics are still very relevant today. The line in Act One: “American presidents should always be classy,” got a big laugh, I wonder why?

Being part of Europe is also one of the major themes and when Bradley retorts with the line: “People are not always right Margaret” about her vision about being out of Europe, we even had a round of spontaneous applause.

This show has aspects drawn from Yes Prime Minister and Spitting Image, but brought up to date with topics that are still very much relevant to the 21st century.

Howe’s resignation speech, which is the eventual focus of the piece, is understated but well delivered. I actually thought that could have been a good ending as opposed to consequently fast tracking a few years into the House of Lords, but with a good memory, or a bit of research for those who are fortunate to be young enough not to remember this era, it is an entertaining and enjoyable night out with some great performances all round.

Dead Sheep runs until Saturday, November 26 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on 01483 440000.

Star rating 4

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