"I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms" – Oscar Wilde

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Review: The Audience (Gielgud Theatre)

Initially I was sceptical about Helen Mirren and Peter Morgan reuniting to bring us what I assumed would be a play along the lines of The Queen 2: Helen Rides Again and the subject matter of weekly meetings with various prime ministers did not exactly fill me with glee.

However, the reviews came in and hailed The Audience as a triumph, and I have to say, this is one of those rare occasions that the reviewers were right on the money.

Dame Helen truly has her work cut out for her. While in The Queen she played Elizabeth at the age of 71, here the plot spans decades, with Helen portraying Her Maj from 25 up to 87. Mirren pulls off the task with aplomb, and her changes in voice, posture and appearance (with enough speedy costume changes to give Cher a run for her money) showing a great range.

In total eight prime ministers make appearances. We see the secret meetings between HM and John Major (Paul Ritter – brilliantly awkward), Gordon Brown (Nathanial Parker – didn’t quite look the part but the voice was spot on), James Callaghan (David Peart – albeit it very briefly), Margaret Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne – who captures Maggie’s voice, mannerisms and hair perfectly), David Cameron (Rufus Wright – passable, but deftly captures Cameron’s cockiness), Anthony Eden (Michael Elwyn), Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe) and Churchill (Edward Fox – looking far too young for the then almost octogenarian PM). We see Wilson the most, and McCabe is definitely a scene stealer and thoroughly deserved his Olivier Award. The final scene between HM and Wilson is the most touching moment in the play. Maya Garber played Young Elizabeth to perfection in some brilliant flashback scenes.

While poignant in places, The Audience is also wickedly funny. Lines about the abdications of Beatrix of The Netherlands and the Pope, and references to Nigel Farage and his “swivel-eyed loons” were particularly appreciated by the packed house.  The live corgis sprinting across the stage induced on of the biggest collective awws I’ve heard in a theatre. Peter Morgan’s first play since Frost/Nixon is extremely well crafted and tows the line between poignancy and humour very well and makes what could be a very dull subject immensely enjoyable and watchable. Stephen Daldry’s direction enables the swift time changes to happen with ease.

While it is clear that the main draw her is Mirren reprising her Oscar-winning role, this production is so much more than that. Mirren may be magnificent, but her supporting players are also fantastic, as is the play itself. This has been a hot ticket for a reason, and I’m really glad I got the chance to see it.

'The Audience' plays at the Gielgud theatre until June 15. While sold out, day seats are available if you are prepared to start queuing early! A Broadway transfer is on the cards.

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