Throughout the past 60 years Queen Elizabeth had held a weekly 20 minute meeting with her Prime Minister. In Peter Morgan’s fascinating and captivating play, The Audience, the playwright imagines what these brief sessions would be like.
Playing the Queen is the dazzling Helen Mirren. The actress has made it somewhat of a career of playing the monarch. Here, she is in regal form. Her meetings with the heads of the British government can be easygoing, playful, thought-provoking, and decisive. The actress plays the Queen from a young lady just learning the intricacies of palace life with Winston Churchill up to the 89 year old’s present day conversations with David Cameron. All the Prime Ministers give strong performances. Out of the 12, Dakin Matthews as the wily, all-knowing Winston Churchill; Richard McCabe as the homey, unpolished Harold Wilson; and Judith Ivey as the fiery, steadfast Margaret Thatcher were three that stood out.
Writer Morgan has slickly pulled back the curtain of this little known weekly ritual to create an engrossing and sometimes spellbinding theatrical experience. He has smartly stayed away, for most of the show, of overtly political themes and kept the exchanges more personable and down-to-earth. There is no specific order to the Prime Minister’s entrances. Some we see just once, others more often.
Director Stephen Daldry has taken what could have been a tedious and unexciting premise and, instead, provided a compelling and absorbing production. Even though the majority of the play focuses on two characters seated on plush chairs the interactions and dynamics presented on stage are riveting. Daldry has also performed a bit of theatrical magic with Mirren’s onstage transformations from one stage of her life to another. In just seconds the actress, surrounded by busying assistants, almost miraculously alters her appearance. One minute an older, decorous Queen, the next a youthful monarch. These metamorphoses take place all through the show.
Bob Crowley’s scenic design realistically gives the illusion of the grandeur and majesty, but also the loneliness, of the interior of Buckingham Palace.
The Audience, a mesmerizing drama with a bravo performance by Helen Mirren.