Steve Nallon will revisit the engine of his ambition when he stars at Birmingham’s REP Theatre as Margaret Thatcher from Monday until October 1.
He’ll be starring in Dead Sheep, in the old stomping ground of the city where he first studied drama and English before moving into TV at the local Pebble Mill Studios.
Dead Sheep is Jonathan Maitland’s acclaimed debut play and portrays Thatcher’s downfall at the hands of Geoffrey Howe.
It portrays the true story of how Mrs Thatcher, the most divisive Prime Minister of modern times, was brought down by her one-time friend and political soul mate.
Using imagined dialogue to portray private scenes between the main protagonists, it recreates the events leading up to Howe’s famous 1990 speech, in which he criticised Thatcher for undermining policies on economic and monetary union in Europe, ultimately leading to her downfall and resignation.
Dead Sheep is the result of two years’ research, during which the playwright gained access to Geoffrey Howe and other prominent politicians and advisors of the era. Leeds-born Nallon is looking forward to playing the role in Birmingham.
“I love the city and am looking forward to coming back. I’ll be staying with friends in Moseley that week.
“Dead Sheep is a drama with comedy, or it might be a comedy with drama. Just because it’s a political play it doesn’t mean it focuses too heavy on the politics. There’s a very serious heart to it.
“If you’re looking at plots for plays, there are probably 20 or 30 classic plots. There’s romance, like Romeo and Juliet, and then there’s the plot that they call ‘the mouse that roared’. This is that plot.
“It’s about the man who was perceived to be the little man. He delivered a speech that destroyed one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the 20th century. He was once her closest friend and in the end became her assassin. It’s a great story.
“It taps into all those stories of the past, like David and Goliath.” The play explores the complexity of Howe’s allegiances. On the one hand, he was devoted to his wife, Elspeth, but politically-speaking he was married to Thatcher.
Nallon has history with ‘Maggie’. He became well-known for impersonating her voice on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image and throughout her premiership. This, however, is the first time he’s embraced the Iron Lady’s physicality.
“This is the first time I’ve played Thatcher in a serious play on the stage. I’ve done serious plays on the radio and I’ve done the voice in films. But this is the first time I’ve performed as Thatcher in a piece where it’s not a farce or satire. It’s real. You have to make it as real as possible.
“I did Spitting Image, of course, but there’s not much of that in this.” Spitting Image came about when Nallon was still based in Birmingham. He’s enjoyed observing the city’s cultural renaissance in recent years.
“I saw all of that happening. I was a student in Birmingham in 1980 and couldn’t walk from the High Street at night because of the way the A38 was built.
“I remember Pebble Mill, which was great. Occasionally I would get a call from the BBC. It would be around 2.15pm and they would say: ‘oh, Steve, would you like to do Call My Bluff?’ I’d say yes. And they’d tell me there’d be a car round to pick me up straight away because they were recording two shows.
“They faxed the definitions, a car arrived, I learned it all in the car on the way to the studio and 15 minutes later I was doing two shows.”
By Andy Richardson