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Monday, 09 March 2015 16:17

Broadway Review: THE AUDIENCE

Written by
Helen Mirrren (l) and Elizabeth Teeter Helen Mirrren (l) and Elizabeth Teeter Photo: Joan Marcus

Queen Elizabeth delighted the world this past year when she photo-bombed two young Australian women's hockey players at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. That same spirit is more fully revealed in The Audience, the latest import from London's West End. It stars that sexy senior siren, Dame Helen Mirren as the captive Queen.

The script by Peter Morgan is quick with a one-liner and never lets the audience's mind wander. Morgan was also the author of the film, "The Queen," which represented Mirren's other outing as Queen Elizabeth II and earned her an Oscar. The play gives a voyeuristic populace the chance to imagine what Her Majesty is like behind closed doors. We will never know the Queen as a regular person, it is her obligation to hide that. She is expected to be a smiling and waving bobble-head of state, to stand behind a publicly elected Prime Minister without any allowance for her own personal politics.

On more than one occasion when discussing global conflicts and possible military options with her Prime Minister, she asks the question, "what's in it for us?" She is told, "…we rehabilitate a country ravaged by a maniacal tyrant, and reinstate a co-operative, friendly pro-Western government that will safeguard our economic interests." Does that sound familiar?

We are informed at the top of the play by the Queen's Equerry-in-Waiting (Geoffrey Beevers) that the weekly audience is "… not an obligation. It is a courtesy extended by the Prime Minister to bring Her Majesty up to speed." This is exactly how Prime Minister Churchill ( Dakin Matthews) perceives the role. When he meets with the newly-ascended 25-year old Queen for the first time, it is abundantly clear that things are going to be different.

One of the joys of this play is seeing Her Majesty's effect on the Sovereign's role and the evolving relationships between her and 12 different Prime Ministers. Whereas Churchill was offended by being offered a seat or a refreshment by Her Highness, others, such as Prime Minister Harold Wilson ( Richard McCabe) and David Cameron (Rufus Wright) had a more relaxed relationship with the Queen. Even the posture taken by the various prime minister's changed with Churchill bowing out of the room and latter prime ministers shaking hands, turning and leaving. Wilson's relationship is portrayed as so informal that he even playfully teases the Queen about her husband's German ancestry. While on a visit to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, he remarks that it looks just like a Rheinland schloss (castle).

With the help of a young Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth Teeter), Morgan contrasts the young, impetuous young Elizabeth with the symbol she became. He uses younger Elizabeth to open a window into the Queen's soul.

The play is particularly well cast, starting with Beever's Equerry, which he plays with a subdued and unrushed cautiousness. Each of the actor's playing the eight Prime Ministers bring a sense of individuality to each of their roles. This could be a problem in a universe dominated by mostly white men, save one Iron Lady. Judith Ivey as Margaret Thatcher perfectly straddles the line between courteousness and contempt.

Many of the Prime Ministers are shown in a less-than-favorable light with each one having their own idiosyncratic personality ticks. Dylan Baker's John Major is a whiney, flustered creature who is uncomfortable in his own "crisis," to quote the Queen. Dakin Matthews embodies an aging Winston Churchill at the end of his long career serving six monarchs. Rod McLachlin gives an appropriately over-size performance of the gruff and bombastic Gordon Brown obsessively biting his fingernails.

Richard McCabe is endearing as the Labor Party Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. We fall in love with him the minute he dunks his biscuit into his tea and retracts the half-dissolved morsel. As Prime Ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair, Rufus Wright captures the uniqueness of the two men while pulling double duty.

The gem in the crown that is this play is Mirren. She gives us the gift of manifestation of one of the most mysterious people in the world. She brings her to life and lets us share in just how stifling it must be to be the queen and how wonderful it is to let your hair down. Her Lilly-Bett is a salt-of-the-earth woman who is closer to the people than you might expect of someone in her position. This doesn't mean she forgets who she is as she reminds Prime Minister Major, "the Coronation is no civic event. It's a consecration that takes place in God's house. It's HIS will that we are who we are."

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Additional Info

  • Theatre: Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 236 West 45th Street New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: February 17, 2015
  • Opening Night: March 8, 2015
  • Closing: June 28, 2015
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 05:26