The Audience is a play by Peter Morgan, written and originally produced in 2013 by National Theatre, with magnificent Helen Mirren as The Queen. (Morgan is also the the creator and writer of Netflix original series The Crown.) The play received several awards, starting with Helen Mirren who received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal of the Queen in 2013. The play was briefly brought to Broadway in 2015 with Helen Mirren reprising her role of Queen Elizabeth II but with the whole new cast. Later in 2015, the play was revived in West End with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Queen Elizabeth II.
I was lucky to see the live broadcast with Helen Mirren three times in the past few years. And I admit that I might even consider seeing it again if I have a chance. Needless to say that I loved the play so much that I was ecstatic to learn that Mirvish decided to bring it to our local stage. Description from Mirvish website:
THE AUDIENCE takes theatregoers behind the walls of Buckingham Palace and into the private chambers of Queen Elizabeth II as she meets with each of her Prime Ministers through her 60 year reign, from when she was a young mother to now as a Great Grandmother. From the old warrior Winston Churchill, to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, through the charm offensive of 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. Don’t miss being a part of THE AUDIENCE.
In this production, Fiona Reid takes on the role of Queen Elizabeth II, and she does it splendidly. Seeing as I have seen this play enough times to know certain lines almost by heart, it allowed me to pay additional attention to the way the lines were delivered and the production itself.
The set design is rather simple, representing Buckingham Palace with two big armchairs as the main focus for the majority of the play. The only major difference in the setting and scenes that I noticed was that Mirvish decided to show the coronation - something that was not part of National Theatre’s original production.
There was one particular thing that I was very much so looking forward to in Mirvish production was how they were going to deal with changing the Queen’s outfits. During the course of the play, the time jumps from recent years to the beginning of the Queen’s reign, which required Helen Mirren to change quickly on stage. There were barely any pauses between the scenes and dialogues, and sometimes she had to jump right into another scene. I was extremely curious about how Mirvish was going to deal with that. NT managed to orchestrate the first change on stage so quickly that I remember audience applauding right after it happened. And all following changes were done on stage as well.
I admit that Mirvish disappointed me a bit. The first change happened on stage in a very similar way - with the help of two ladies. However, Mirvish cheated a bit: they dimmed the lights and focused the audience’s attention on the equerry and his monologue. For some other changes, Fiona was hidden behind the folding screen and delivering lines from behind it.
I understand that having an actress quickly change the costume and wigs on stage is a rather complicating endeavour, that is why I was so impressed by NT production.
I found Fiona a bit more brisk and less warm than Helen in her portrayal of the Queen. She made shorter pauses between lines, which took me some time to get used to, to be honest. However, her performance was as good, as funny, and Fiona’s little dance during the Scotland scene was just precious (although Helen was even more hilarious). I personally liked KATE HENNIG as Margaret Thatcher more than her counterpart, Haydn Gwynne (however, Haydn was fabulous in her indignation! Seriously, comparing these productions is like comparing green and red apples - both are great!).
And the corgis! Don’t forget the corgis, whose two second dash across the stage resulted in an unified ‘awwwws’ from the audience.
Overall, I really enjoyed seeing this play. I do admit that my heart will forever be taken by Helen Mirren. Nevertheless, I can easily give this play 4 out of 5 stars. I watched this play on February 3rd, 2017 on stage at Royal Alexandra Theater.
If you love British history, the monarchy or old good British humour, this is the play for you!
Personal rating: 4.5 stars