The Audience***** (Gielgud Theatre, 5 April 2013)

Posted: April 5, 2013 in Theatre

photo-102London’s hottest ticket of 2013 and it is worth at least ten times whatever price paid for the privilege of spending an evening in the company of HM (Helen Mirren) The Queen. Covering 60 years, Peter Morgan’s new play dips into the The Queen’s weekly audiences with her twelve Prime Minister (she calls them “the dirty dozen”). Not all of them appear, the most notable omission being Tony Blair who is only referred to and then with disdain. What a splendid and thoroughly deserved insult! We see Winston Churchill (Edward Fox) trying to bully the 26 year old Monarch and David Cameron (Rufus Wright) toadying to her at 86. Using many quick changes of costumes and wigs, Helen Mirren spans the ages effortlessly; but she is not offering a mere impersonation, rather an insight into the real person, showing us that she is “more than just a postage stamp with a pulse”. It is an extraordinary tour de force. The production, directed by Stephen Daldry is, at different times, mischievously funny, fiercely political and deeply moving. The comedy is largely at the expense of John Major and Gordon Brown who are caricatured by Paul Ritter and Nathaniel Parker respectively; the politics come in debates with Anthony Eden (Michael Elwyn) over Suez and Margaret Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne) over South African sanctions; the most touching scenes are those involving Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe), who is presented as the Queen’s favourite of the twelve. He is bumbling and nervous at his first audience, relaxed and playful on a visit to Balmoral and, finally, confused and distraught as The Queen becomes the first he tells that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. More than just a fun evening, this is a genuinely great play that unravels the mystery of our Constitutional Monarchy, explaining to us and to the rest of the World how and why it works. The lingering thoughts after the curtain falls are how lucky as a nation we are to have Elizabeth II and how lucky the theatre is to have Helen Mirren.

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