Theatre review: The Audience
Cert 12a | ★★★☆☆
The Queen must be a hard act to follow. Not the monarch: the 2006 film about the Royal Family’s identity crisis following the death of Princess Diana.
That film’s success was down to two people: writer Peter Morgan and Helen Mirren, who picked up a Best Actress Oscar for her efforts. When Morgan and Mirren signed on for the spin-off stage production, The Audience, it was clear from the off that it was going to be a massive hit.
This revival, though, was tricky – Mirren is currently performing the play on Broadway and last night’s election meant it was in serious need of a re-write. Would it “keep calm and carry on” without its star performer and a largely revised script?
The answer is yes, but with caveats. Kristin Scott Thomas does a fine job of capturing the clipped tone and wry humour, but Mirren’s warmth is sorely missing. The inner heaviness that Mirren used to bring out the Queen’s humanity is replaced here with a sad stoicism that’s admirable but not adorable. One doesn’t fall in love with Scott Thomas’s Queen, you simply respect her from afar. The fact she’s still stumbling over lines doesn’t help, either.
The production’s successes are more Morgan’s than Scott Thomas’. He’s added more theatrical pomp to the proceedings, including a mesmerising coronation scene at the end of Act One exploring the Queen’s much-ignored but fascinating sense of divine duty.
This new script also strengthens the common hardships shared by Prime Ministers past and present. These peacocks (beginning with Churchill and ending with Cameron) parade onto stage to glean wisdom from Her Majesty in their weekly, informal sessions, which reveal as much about the inner turmoil of politicians as they do about their icy Queen. Callaghan famously said they felt more akin to psychiatry sessions than business-like affairs of state. Indeed, sleep – or lack thereof – is discussed regularly and each Prime Minister is displayed in their most neurotic form. Brown stomps on to the stage like a slack-jawed hulk, Churchill arrives shrouded in cigar smoke, jowls aquiver, while Margaret Thatcher’s handbag swings precariously.
The laughs are frequent and sharply written, but the icy hauteur of Kristin Scott Thomas’s Queen Elizabeth rarely graduates beyond a foil for the mad energy of her Prime Ministers.
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