How To Make A Drama Out Of A 'Dead Sheep'

The political downfall of Margaret Thatcher was inspiration for Jonathan Maitland's play

Chiswick Events

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Comment on this story on the

The Labour MP Denis Healey famously said being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep." But the former deputy PM's attack on Mrs Thatcher in a dramatic resignation speech on 13 November ultimately led to her downfall.

Chiswick writer and broadcaster, Jonathan (Jonny) Maitland,(Presenter, ITV's Tonight) has taken Mrs Thatcher's departure as the theme of his play 'Dead Sheep' currently in rehearsals at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, opening April 1st.

The staging of the play, described as "a drama tinged with tragedy and comedy", coincides with the 25th anniversary of Howe's political assassination of his leader- its themes of loyalty, love, political morality and Britishness, are as relevant today as a quarter of a century ago. The play is directed by Ian Talbot (former Artistic Director of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre).

How To Make A Drama Out Of A 'Dead Sheep'

Jonny says he wrote the play as a response to film and theatrical treatments of Mrs. Thatcher which had ignored what was "probably the best story."

"There was so much drama to mine. He (Geoffrey Howe) went from being probably the key architect of Thatcherism to her assassin. Along with Keith Joseph, he was a prime mover bMarch 24, 2015 1981 budget was one of the most controversial and – depending on your viewpoint – successful or disastrous budgets of the modern era. Without him as her intellectual shield, a Cabinet Minister in those difficult early days of the 1980s told me, she may well have gone under.

"But also – the icing on the dramatic cake - there was his wife Elspeth, the 'formidable and witty feminist' who wasn’t at all keen on Thatcher and vice versa. John Biffen called them 'wasps in a jam jar'. As you may know she was credited (blamed?) by some with having actually written Geoffrey’s brilliant speech for him. If I don’t tell the story from this angle, I thought, someone else will. So I got started "

Jonny Maitland

Jonny Maitland

One of the challenges in writing the play was a "less than charismatic" protagonist. But the more he researched the material the more reassured he became of his subject. Howe turned out to be a complex and interesting man and even likeable, said Maitland.

"At first he seems pompous but eventually you discover shrewdness, wit and self-awareness. He’s a cross between two of our greatest Britons: Captain Mainwaring and William Gladstone."

It's also a portrait of two types of marriage- Geoffrey and Elspeth Howe's marriage lasted 62 years, while Geoffrey and Margaret’s 'political union' lasted 18.

"It’s about a man caught between two strong women. And the agonising conflicts of loyalty that occur when your personal life and political beliefs pull you one way but your Prime Minister pulls you in another", says Maitland.

The project is a W4 effort, with locals Graham Seed (the late Nigel Pargetter in The Archers) and Denise Silvey involved. Denise is the production superviser of The Mousetrap and her company is producing the play. Steve Nallon from Spitting Image plays Mrs Thatcher and Graham plays Ian Gow and Nigel Lawson.

And on Friday 27th March, Graham, Denise and Jonny will discuss the play with Torin Douglas at St Michael & All Angels ( parish hall) at 7.30pm for 8pm ( Free admission. Refreshments and a collection in aid of the churche's three charities. (SM&AA recently announced it had chosen Msaada, helping the people of Rwanda as one of its three charities.

Msaada (the name means 'help' in Swahili) was founded by Irish journalist Billy Kelly, with support from Fergal Keane, to help restore dignity to the forgotten victims of the Rwandan genocide. The charity provides high quality dairy cows in calf, along with full training and veterinary support, to people who are living below the poverty line. You can find out more about Msaada and make a donation online.

Last year, St Michael & All Angels raised more than £39,000 for charities and less-well off churches, through its appeals and events such as the Bedford Park Festival and the Chiswick Book Festival.


March 23, 2015

Bookmark and Share