THE AUDIENCE (play)
What goes on when a Prime Minister meets the Queen each week for a chat... this
Kristin Scott Thomas plays the lady on the stamp in a revival of this Spring
2013 hit work by Peter Morgan, with Stephen Daldry directing.
(Seen during the previous Gielgud Theatre 2013 run, at the afternoon
performance on 25th May 2013). Some actors have now left the cast.
And better late than never, as it turns out. Not a Helen Mirren fan, and
expecting some kind of "star vehicle" / "event theatre" piece, the monkey didn't
bother... until two people it trusts told it that it had to... so it netted one
of the few remaining tickets... and was it pleased it did so.
This is a strong play that demands exceptional performances to work. It doesn't
need, nor rely on any particular actor (even if known for playing the role). It
just requires performers able to observe acutely their subjects and bring them
to life without actual caricature.
Once settled, we skip, in no particular chronological order, through some of our
best known prime ministers. The clever device of positioning chairs closer or
further to the Queen indicates her inner thoughts, any more open commentary
regarding her feelings towards a minister thus come as a moving surprise when
uttered - particularly in the case of Harold Wilson, the greatest
transformation. Richard McCabe makes smart work of a difficult role, his
restraint turning what could be a mere socialist rant into a something far more
personal and intriguing.
Nods too, to Paul Ritter's completely believable John Major - with whom the best
scenes in the play are shared, and Rufus Wright's David Cameron - with whom the
play's constantly changing scene is shared. Hayden Gwynne may perhaps speak a
little fast for Thatcher, but has obliviously found her character since a few
early reviews. A note too to the "young Elizabeth" for a quietly understated yet
memorable contrast with her older self.
Helen Mirren waits until portraying the modern Queen to really let slip how deep
her impersonation goes. Until that point, we are watching a superb actor playing
a well-written role. Suddenly, we realise just how good, and the whole evening
reaches its sharpest focus.
Peter Morgan manages, one speech about the loss of Britannia aside, to create a
credible idea of historical events as they might have been, while always
unwinding a thread of history to hang the evening on. Never dull, often witty,
the weave is tight, the performances tighter, the evening satisfying beyond
Edit: 6th May 2015: Professional reviewers feel that Ms
Scott Thomas is more glacial but also lighter than Ms Mirren, but that it serves
the play just as well. A few changes - including dropping Mr Callaghan and
adding Mr Blair are also noted. In general, as good as the first time, seems to
be the verdict.
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