The Audience: Theatre Review

The Audience – A new play by Peter Morgan

Winner of three Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards, National Theatre Live’s smash-hit broadcast of the original West End production of The Audience – featuring Helen Mirren’s multi-award-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II – returns to cinemas in celebration of the monarch’s 90th birthday.

Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and directed by two-time Tony Award winner and Academy Award – nominated director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours), these special encore screenings include an exclusive Q&A with Helen Mirren and director Stephen Daldry.

For sixty years, Queen Elizabeth II has met with each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a private weekly meeting. This meeting is known as The Audience. No one knows what they discuss, not even their spouses.

From the old warrior Winston Churchill, to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair right up to today’s meetings with the current incumbent David Cameron, the Queen advises her Prime Ministers on all matters both public and personal. Through these private audiences, we see glimpses of the woman behind the crown and witness the moments that shaped a monarch.

The Audience was presented in the West End by Matthew Byam Shaw for Playful Productions, Robert Fox and Andy Harries.


(This teaser is from the later Broadway run but gives you an idea of the costumes and staging)


Cast: West End performers

Queen Elizabeth II: Helen Mirren
John Major: Paul Ritter
Gordon Brown: Nathaniel Parker
Harold Wilson: Richard McCabe
Winston Churchill: Edward Fox
Anthony Eden: Michael Elwyn
Margaret Thatcher: Haydn Gwynne
David Cameron: Rufus Wright
James Callaghan: David Peart
Equerry: Geoffrey Beevers
Young Elizabeth: Nell Williams



Review: The play operates as a series of interconnected, non-chronological, vignettes regarding meetings between the Queen and her Prime Ministers. Tony Blair, although mentioned, is omitted in this early version of the play. A few scenes are of their first meetings, with most set during mid-term meetings and one, James Callaghan, breaking the routine towards the end by appearing as a cut away reminiscence as the prime minister the Queen forgets to recall when she counts all the prime ministers she had. Admittedly he acts as a one scene wonder joking that she called him ‘Sunny ‘Jim’. In fact the same could be said of most of the actors playing various Prime Ministers although John Major returns a second time but, most notably, Harold Wilson has quite a few scenes with the Queen showing his first meeting with her, a holiday at Balmoral and one of their last audiences where he is shown to be paranoid of the room being bugged and admits to the Queen he is in the early stages of dementia before the Queen, in the indirect manner in which she makes her view clear. It is all but explicitly stated he was her favourite Prime Minister as he was given the honour of hosting a dinner for her and Philip at 10 Downing Street which was an honour last given to Winston Churchill.

The stage layout could be as minimal as having just two chairs on the stage but we also get some other pieces of furniture such as a bureau desk, a table for drinks and during the Balmoral scene a 3 bar heater. The provenance of each item of furniture is recounted by the Equerry (a sort of aide-de camp but nowadays more like a personal servant similar to a valet but for monarchs) and usually raises a few laughs. Usually I would make a basic stage layout diagram but it seems redundant here. The only thing I need add is that when set in Buckingham palace we have a background looking down a corridor to give a full impression of the immense size of the building along with its marble columns and while at Balmoral the background is of a highlands scene with chandeliers composed of stags’ antlers.

The costumes are historically based and during the intermission we were shown a documentary of the behind the scenes process of research with photos of the various era of the queens clothing and her hair styles. At one point, when transitioning from John major in the 1990s all the way back to Winston Churchill in the 1950s just before the Queen’s inauguration, there is a costume change live on stage. This is done by three attendants, who are actually the wig and costume staff of the production, crowding her and changing her outfit so that the queen goes from an old woman back to a young woman. Also, between Prime Ministers, we have scenes where the Queen addresses her younger childhood self who rebels and cannot conceive of being a monarch. They give us the audience and insight into how the Queen has a duality as she always wanted to just live a country life but having taken the role of monarch must act the part. Also later in the play we have actual corgi dogs, which the Queen adores, run across the stage. Of course they upstage everyone and would have been a distraction if on the stage for any significant period of time.

This is a light-hearted play with quite a bit of wordplay or what nowadays would be called ‘banter’ between the Queen and her various Prime Ministers. At the 2013 Olivier Awards, Helen Mirren received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal of the Queen, while Richard McCabe received the best supporting actor nod for his role as Harold Wilson. In this play anyone can be the standout performance it feels but with the most stage time these two roles, of the Queen which the performance hinges upon and Wilson who has multiple scenes with her, are inevitably the ones people will leave remembering.

The key question people no doubt have is whether knowledge of British political history is necessary. I would say you don’t to enjoy it. In fact having a little prior knowledge is a doubled edge sword as you will see the caricatures for what they are but at the same time, for the disinterested, its just people interacting with the Queen to no real end. The various roles are caricatures of the real life people and any suggestion regarding the authenticity of the Queen’s portrayal I think is best summed up by Helen Mirren herself: we have many photos and portraits of the Queen but each is as much influenced by the artist as it is by its subject matter. This play itself is just another portrait depicting a particular perception of the Queen just as we only have contemporary depictions of monarchs of past centuries to base our portrayals on. It’s a fun play which you will enjoy seeing once but I personally would wonder if it has any legs.

It is a time capsule of sorts in that it gives the current view of these political figures and, as mentioned in the interview shown after the show, they had to (and no doubt still do) update the portrayal of David Cameron week on week so that it feels as up to date as possible. It’s evitably at some point there will be another Prime Minister after Cameron and one day the Queen herself will sadly die so how much they add to the play and if they alter it is some way is questionable. For example interjections into other scenes as Callaghan’s scene can feel forced and as I mentioned earlier in this early version Tony Blair (and others) were omitted. It feels that for the time being this is going to be a constantly evolving play but whether it will still be held in prominence decades from now or assigned to the same place as many historical plays is to be seen. Go see it, enjoy it, just be mindful you are watching caricatures of these people not fair reflections of who they were and often it looks at their positives and ignores the bad political moves of some of them.

the audience leaflet2

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Thoughts While Visiting Cardiff On A Quiet Saturday In February

Opticians are always young women. Where do they go afterwards? Optometry isn’t something you just study in order to go work somewhere for a few years then move onto another career… Do any men do optometry? Maybe it is just me and all I see are young women in this career? I went into a number of stores and passed by a few opticians and I saw no male staff.

John Lewis: More makeup means a woman looks like she has more of a jib… an attitude displayed by the jutting out of the lower lip in a defiant manner though there is nothing to challenge the in their immediate vacinity as they only go certain places, wih certain people so such a gesture is a display of a close minded individual indicating their prejudice to anyone who does not fit into their social caste. In hindsight maybe she was just a very confident shoplifter who made people around her think she was meant to be there unlike someone with a heavy coat and deep, opaque, bag wandering around with ‘eagle eyed action man’ darting glances observing their surroundings.

St Davids II Shopping Centre: Store workers are dressing very casually recently… no it would be more appropriate to say they are dressing stylishly but it is increasingly hard to tell who is or is not employed at the shop. I saw a girl with fake tan, platinum blonde hair and wearing a white dress with smudges of primary colours on it and only realised she worked in the shop when she started to handle stock by the arm full. One day someone walked up to me and asked me to help them as if I were a member of staff when I wasn’t. As much as I wanted to go along with it and lead them into purchasing the least appropriate item my morality stopped me and I informed them to go hence to the nearest optometrist and purchase a pair of corrective eye lens with which to better conduct themselves. Also to perform an act of masochistic onanism upon themselves post haste. I find shops are too casual nowadays.

Card Shop: I saw a card with a very funny phrase. I noted it down on my phone and will use it in due course. I suppose I could do that with any card that had a good idea. Especially those Hipster lookin gones where the image is a very basic doodle of a joke. Its all just a question of morality as I doubt the staff will walk up to you and ask what you are doing just assuming you are texting someone and it is none of their business.

Park Plaza: Privileged women enter the reception taking one of the few footstools for themselves across the room next to one of the open fires. The youngest looking one, face reddened by makeup and skin cleansers removing the top layer of dead skin fro her face, looks blankly ahead in doing this act. Hair crisply styled, grey hoodie, leather gilet and jeggings. All very expensive items no doubt but also very generic looking. Tall. Very, very, thin. Model, sickly, physique unfit to bear children without medical intervention. The caesarean scar no doubt would be a badge of honour for their motherhood being too posh to push’ unlike the common folk they view as cattle, worthy only being beasts of burden, to ensure their ongoing lives of luxuriating being sustainable. Her companions who did less look older due to makeup and what looked like dyed blond hair contrasted against black shawls hiding their physiques apart from tree trunk legs held in by calf high boots.

They read self-help books. They look the sort. On audiobook of course while they work out at the gym, if not running down the narrow country road holding up traffic, to ensure as many people as possible see them leading a ‘morally responsible’ healthy life as endorsed by social doctrine. It is the only tie sweat is allowed even if it means purchasing non-running makeup to wear especially for this act.

‘Own the space you inhabit’ – self-help books often state such a mantra but in practise it is an endorsement of acting in a sociopathic manner. It is a vicious circle in which the advice tells you to act like those who do not consider you and in turn you become such a person to someone else who themselves goes seeking advice only to be told to do the same and thus the ouroboros of societal behaviour perpetuates itself leading to a loss of humanity for the sake of perceiving one’s self as ‘alive’ according to the perceptions of others.

It’s a vicious circle. The polite etiquette the British are known for is gradually being eroded away and will be lost one day. Every generation fears this believing it will happen within their life time but although it is put aside as a foolish notion it is happening much in the way that even with beaches the coast is gradually eroding away gradually no matter how slowly it is perceived to be doing so. It can be padded and defended with certain concrete defensives but one day it will be irrevocably lost. What Henry James’ generation feared in ‘Daisy Miller’, where we adopt the brashness of American societies ever revolving need for conquest and self-empowerment, will finally come to pass.

In thinking that I am being unfair with this notion I dismiss it and go to the toilet.

There are three urinals against the wall. A man in the standard uniform of t-shirt and blue jeans of the casual relaxed yet casual smart man stands at the central urinal with his legs wide apart. ‘Own the space you inhabit’. He is breaching the understood social convention to use the furthest urinal and leave at least one urinal empty between users. In the scenario he should have taken the furthest and I the one furthest from him. But no instead he had all three to himself.

I go into the lone cubicle and do not hear the taps nor the hand drier, the latter being directly outside the cubicle, being operated so I have to assume he also left without cleaning his hands. Obviously he intends , like a feral dog, to smear his scent all over the place to mark his territory I suppose. The hand drier has that slow uncomfortable heat like the breathe of an old age pensioner invading your personal space speaking to you or hugging you in a deathlike grasp betraying their age.

Outside Walking from Queens Street towards the New Theatre: Along a wrought iron fence walks an old woman. Face like crumpled leather. Hair dyed gregarious ginger. Spindle legs hang out of a very heavy fur coat giving the impression she is in fact wearing a modifiyed gorilla costume. Danging out of the arms are her hands clad in red leather gloves and a cigarette hangs lazily from her right hand the smoke and ash drifting onto everyone behind her wake.

Two compatriots walk with her. They are of similar age in luminously sun-bleached yellow and pink padded coats respectively. They walk three abreast spaced just enough to give the impression you could wak past them but in approaching realising you do not in fact have enough space to do so. By which point the still warm ash has drifted onto any exposed skin burning you.

I thought I saw my English teacher from my first year of Secondary School. If so she hadn’t aged so it couldn’t be her. She always looked like the stereotype of what you would expect a young female literary student to look like. She had a doctorate when she taught me. Why would someone with a doctorate teach in a Comprehensive School? I didnt know then and I don’t know now.

Apparently there are only 500 ‘real’ people in the world and everyone else is just a bit player. However there are multiple coexisting dramatis personae consisting of 500 people all overlapping so it is not the cause of an existentialist crisis for anyone.


A few days away.

Nothing to say.

Here is a rambling number of notes.

I read too many things but Charles Bukowski and Daniil Kharms.

More to follow. What it is cannot be said… because I do not know.