CAROLINE Harker has her place in York Theatre Royal history.

She was part of the cast for Brideshead Revisited, playing Lady Marchmain in artistic director Damian Cruden's inaugural production in April 2016 after the theatre's £6.1 million redevelopment.

Earlier, Caroline had appeared there as prim wife Ruth in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit in May 2014 and, earlier still, she was Mother in Cruden's London production of E Nesbit's The Railway Children at Waterloo Station in 2010.

From tomorrow (April 24) to Saturday to May 11, she returns to the Theatre Royal in regal mode in Moira Buffini's mischief-making political satire Handbagged.

"Opening the clasp on the antipathy between two giants of the 20th century", Handbagged revolves around two characterisations of The Queen and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as Buffini imagines what might have happened at their weekly meetings when sharing their opposing views of Britain’s role in the world.

Caroline plays Liz, a younger version of Her Majesty; Susan Penhaligon plays Q, the older Queen; Eve Matheson is Mags, the younger Margaret Thatcher; Sarah Crowden, T, the older Maggie.

"My respect for The Queen has grown enormously since starting to work on this play," says Caroline. "You have your ideas about The Queen and Margaret Thatcher, but they've grown on me as people. I don't like Mrs Thatcher's politics but I've kind of been amazed by her as a person. That will of iron, among all those men around her, was unrelenting.

"My respect for The Queen is huge, not least because she reigns but she doesn't rule. She has warmth, spirit, great humour and great compassion for people all over the world; she always displays loyalty and fairness."

York Press:

Making the headlines: Caroline Harker, left, as Liz, and Eve Matheson, as Mags, in Handbagged

Caroline plays The Queen from the age of 53. "At first you think the thing that's going to fixate you the most is getting the voice correct, but there are things in the script she wouldn't say and physical things you do that she wouldn't do, but the play takes over and you lose your grip on being exactly like her.

"For a play, you have to make her voice uneven, to make it bounce around, but still have a sprinkling of her rather than taking it down to a monotone. "

As chance would have it, Caroline's research was aided by television programmes. "Rehearsals coincided with some brilliant documentaries on the telly encompassing the period we're covering," she says.

Handbagged opened on April 4, when all the preparation had to come to fruition. "There's a leaping-off you have to do, when you have to think, 'right, let's just have a flavour of The Queen', and that's what's so enjoyable to play," says Caroline..

"If I had to think, 'am I giving the correct impression of her?', I wouldn't sleep. You have to remember, there's an element of satire here, so you have to take it with a pinch of salt."

Defining the differing reactions to The Queen and Margaret Thatcher in Handbagged, Caroline suggests: "The audience laughs at Thatcher but laughs with The Queen, which is a lovely thing to play. I wouldn't really want to play Thatcher, who's so humourless, it's funny.

"What I love with this play is The Queen was sitting down with her first female Prime Minister and things were never going to be the same again. Suddenly The Queen was going to have to play it in a different way."

York Theatre Royal, Wiltshire Creative and Oldham Coliseum present Handbagged, York Theatre Royal, April 24 to May 11, 7.30pm, plus Thursday matinees at 2pm Saturdays, 2.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at