The Audience: Theater review by David Cote
The teen Elizabeth, fated to wear the crown and wield the scepter as Queen of England, hates her new digs at Buckingham Palace. “It’s like being trapped in a museum,” whines the unhappy girl. Contrast her experience with ours at Peter Morgan’s The Audience. For two hours, we watch a pageant of prime ministers, from Churchill to Cameron, in fictionalized weekly debriefs with their monarch. There’s a touch of waxworks about the piece. But you shouldn’t feel trapped, and anyway, museums can be nice, with pretty things to look at and facts to glean. Helen Mirren’s art of acting is certainly worth your close attention.
Exuding perfect regal frostiness while letting us glimpse the lonely person underneath, Mirren transforms brilliantly (helped by lightning-fast costume changes) from the grandmotherly 69-year-old comforting an insecure John Major (Dylan Baker) to the 25-year-old heir apparent nervously schooled by Winston Churchill (Dakin Matthews). Richard McCabe’s sly-boots Labour PM Harold Wilson teases her with obvious affection, and she nimbly defends herself against the fire-breathing Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey). The royals, the play notes, represent continuity in a changing world. Morgan’s data-crammed historical scrapbook equally points out that domestic and foreign problems recur with sad regularity—such as interfering in the Middle East (whether over the Suez Canal or Saddam Hussein’s WMDs) or relief for the poor.
Whether you know your 20th-century Parliamentary history or simply get an Anglophile high from tea service and footmen in livery, Mirren rules in this engaging and humanizing retrospective. The Brits may sing about God saving their queen, but I think she takes care of herself just fine.—David Cote
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (see Broadway). By Peter Morgan. Directed by Stephen Daldry. With Helen Mirren. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.
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