Theatre review: The Audience
Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR
Gielgud Theatre – map
Performance run: 15 February to 15 June 2013
Performance review date: Wednesday matinee, 14:30, 15 May, 2013
Review by: Alexa Williamson
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Thoroughly enjoyable. Ladies and gentlemen, you are cordially invited to attend an audience with Elizabeth II and not just one, but all of her prime ministers (13 to date). Since before her coronation in 1952, every Tuesday, except for when Tony Blair was prime minister (the audience was moved to Wednesdays ‘so that he had more time to prepare for Prime Minister’s question time’), the Queen has had a meeting with the UK’s Prime Minister so that he could brief her on important affairs of state and gain her support – well, she also has questions and requests, but prime ministers, as Elizabeth has seen and tolerated, tend to have their own agendas.
In this wonderful piece of theatre, which was written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Daldry and with the central role of Elizabeth II performed by Helen Mirren, we, the audience, are luckily and happily privy to the Queen’s audiences with her various prime ministers, and there is insight into what is happening and the formalities that the Queen and her prime ministers undergo by a seasoned and trustworthy official.
Lasting two and a half hours, we not only get a sense of what it was like to work with Winston Churchill through to David Cameron (the play is kept current with new events, such as Margaret Thatcher‘s death added in), we also get to visit Balmoral, meet Elizabeth as a girl growing up in a Royal household and also see her dressed in a flowing and shimmering tulle gown, with her crown on her head and wearing many diamonds, for her famous photographs by Cecil Beaton.
Helen Mirren is wonderful in this role as she must constantly change outfit and hai style (and even colour) for each of her different audiences with the various prime ministers. The sets of the play are also gorgeous and elegant as they “show off” both Buckingham Palace and Balmoral. She is also bold, proud and confident as a monarch should be. The Queen wants to get her way, but understands that she must bow to the will of the people – she didn’t even get to take Prince Philip‘s surname of Mountbatten, although she wanted to.
Kudos to Helen Mirren, writer Morgan and director Daldry and designer Bob Crowley for creating such an inviting and modest yet sentimental, powerful and humourous play. It does indeed feels like we are in the intimate audiences that Elizabeth II had with her prime ministers. Theatre this palpable yet professional, strong and enticing is fairly hard to find as the time flies by. Well done to all involved in this production. Don’t miss the opportunity to be in the presence of two great people – both ‘the Queen’ and Helen Mirren.
The Audience (official site)
Gielgud Theatre (official site)
Queen Elizabeth II of England (Wikipedia)
Helen Mirren (Wikipedia)
Peter Morgan (Wikipedia)
Stephen Daldry (Wikipedia)