Helen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth II in a script by Peter Morgan is some kind of magic formula. It worked wonders in the film The Queen, and that alchemy works equally well in the new stage production The Audience.
The Audience is based on the fact that British Prime Ministers have a weekly audience, or private meeting, with the monarch. The play imagines a series of pivotal audiences from Winston Churchill to David Cameron, as each Prime Minister uses these confidential conversations as a sounding board and a confessional – sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive.
The play’s chronology is non-linear, starting with John Major (1990-1997) and following a trail of themes and memories that make sense of both monarch and monarchy. Slowly, a central conflict emerges between the Ministers’ necessarily narrow focus on British problems, and the queen’s broader responsibility to the international organization she heads, the Commonwealth of Nations. It’s a wider conflict than the crisis of Lady Diana’s death portrayed in The Queen, but no less powerful and engaging.
Stephen Daldry directs the piece with equal parts grace and vigor. He makes sure the intellectual complexities are clear and easily understood, but he also provides pure theatrical splash where needed.
This is Mirren’s show above all, and she peels off the years as easily as her dressers peel off her wigs and dress (often in on-stage slight of hand). The Audience in particular shines a light on the less-remembered Labour PM Harold Wilson (1964-1970, 1974-1976), with whom Elizabeth seemed to share a particularly easy rapport. Richard McCabe portrays Wilson with a mix of bluster, smarts, and wry good humor. Judith Ivey also scores bringing Margaret Thatcher to terrifying life (in an equally terrifying, high-flying wig). Highly recommended.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.