By: Sandi Durell
If you didn’t have any idea about what goes on behind closed doors at Buckingham Palace between each of the twelve Prime Ministers (from Churchill to Cameron) and Queen Elizabeth II, in their weekly private meetings, The Audience puts a spin on the serious and personal with light-hearted humor. In between, you can count on an uppity Equerry-in-Waiting (Geoffrey Beevers) to fill in the blanks as narrator to Peter Morgan’s quick sketches through British history.
The highlight is Dame Helen Mirren as the sovereign Queen, played with dignity, an entitlement peppered with great caring and warmth and, above all, the importance of her call to duty. The play is a kaleidoscope in a time warp that bounces back and forth over 60 years as she’s brought up to snuff by eight of the Prime Ministers beginning with Winston Churchill (played by Dakin Matthews), who explains protocol to the young 25 year old Queen waiting to be crowned. The progression isn’t in order as we meet the variety of Prime Ministers including Sir Anthony Eden (Michael Elwyn) during the Suez Canal crisis; an apologetic-for-winning Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe), who brought social reforms to England; a highly emotional meeting with John Major (Dylan Baker); the variety of discussions that ensue – – aside from politics, war, balance of payments, Iraq, Princess Diana, include halibut, life at 10 Downing Street, gifts to and from Obama – David Cameron (Rufus Wright, who also portrays Tony Blair). The encounter with Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey) is competitive and unfriendly.
The scenery changes from the opulent marble Palace to Balmoral Castle in Scotland (Bob Crowley set design). Outstanding wig & make up designs are by Ivana Primorac.
Queen Elizabeth II is portrayed as greatly insulted (in conversation with John Major) by those who would dispose of the Monarchy saying it’s a luxury, that she should pay her own taxes and decommission her beloved Britannia yacht.
Throughout, she plays opposite her younger teen self (at this performance played by Sadie Sink), in an interesting mirroring effect, as she must learn the art and bearing of living in a palace as a forth-coming Queen – – “it’s like being trapped in a museum.”
This glimpse into Parliamentary history is heightened as Ms. Mirren morphs effortlessly through time and aging, back and forth, with costume changes onstage (reminiscent of Cinderella) without a hitch. Her comportment, vocal and physical, are subtle transformations that characterize Helen Mirren as the flowingly smooth, brilliant actress she is.
Most of the scenes are sketch-driven and we must remember fictionalized. The Queen, however, now 86 years old and the longest reigning, seems to have had a hand in so much of what ensued throughout British history. No doubt she was/is lonely and hopefully maintains the sense of humor given here by Peter Morgan.
“She has a way of saying nothing, yet making herself perfectly clear” say her Prime Ministers.
Stephen Daldry directs this seamless production at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street, thru June 28th.
*Photos: Joan Marcus