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Profile: Playwright Takes On Margaret Thatcher and Brexit

todaySeptember 24, 2021 5

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Those expecting a character assassination of Mrs. Thatcher are in for a surprise; the work is more detached than its playwright’s politics might suggest. Though he is an unapologetic Remainer, it is the Euroskeptic Mrs. Thatcher who emerges as not just the dominant figure but, surprisingly perhaps, the nicer one too.

Mr. McManus said he wanted to dissipate some of the polarization provoked by Brexit.But perhaps he is just generous by nature — he also has nice things to say about the current prime minister, albeit in a backhanded way. Mr. Johnson has “a remarkable skill set,” he said, “You’ve got to admire his techniques; I work in theater now so have an eye for techniques and winning over an audience.”

As for Mr. Heath, Mr. McManus puts a similarly positive gloss on things, talking airily about his affection for his former boss until reminded of his own words in the play’s program notes.

Mr. Heath was “chilly and imperious, solipsistic and unappreciative,” a man who nursed grudges and passé ideas, and not someone he ever much liked, the playwright wrote.

“Umm, yes, a little waspish by my usual standards,” Mr. McManus allowed, sipping his beer and adding with a laugh, “it’s a bit hard to come back from that.”

Though Mr. Heath was charm personified while wooing Mr. McManus for the job of political secretary, the frost set in once he accepted. In 2000, after Mr. McManus announced he would run for Parliament in the following year’s general election, he lost his job with Mr. Heath, promptly and peremptorily. “He decided when I was on holiday that he was going to get rid of me,” he said.

Mr. McManus fell short in that election and never again managed to be selected as a candidate, the first step to running for office under the British system. But several career paths beckoned; he subsequently worked as a consultant, a journalist and as the director of a media watchdog. He also wrote several books, including one about Mr. Heath. Another, “Tory Pride and Prejudice,” chronicled a transformation in the Conservative Party’s attitude to gay rights.

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