by Peter Morgan.
Gielgud Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 6AR To 15 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5130 (24hr £2 booking fee).
www.theaudienceplay.com (£2 booking fee).
Review: Carole Woddis 7 March.
Right royal, loyal show.
Shaftesbury Avenue has always been about glitz and glamour. And they don’t come much glitzier than Helen Mirren, reprising her role as The Queen in Peter Morgan’s merry extension of Stephen Frears’ 2006 film.
If the enterprise seems at first cynical commercialism, Stephen Daldry’s intensely theatrical production will flatten the most robust of cynics. For, on the back of Morgan’s politics-lite but witty script, Daldry has built a cast-iron edifice of theatrical surprises.
Magnificent Mirren, crisp as a spring lettuce, never missing a beat, performs a series of quick on-stage transformations, starting with turning from tight white-curled, 70-something monarch in weekly audience with Paul Ritter’s wonderfully self-deprecating invisible man Prime Minister, John Major – “when I come into a room heads don’t turn. Oh, how lovely,” murmurs her majesty wistfully – to the rookie 27-year old put through her paces by elder statesman Winston Churchill.
Not only does the Queen’s hair return to its former colour; Mirren lightens her voice and accentuates that inimical upper-crust accent of yore – if anything reflects the Queen’s longevity, it is the changes in her pronunciation, softened and modulated through the years.
In total, Morgan’s script introduces us to eight of the Queen’s PMs, mostly against a background of Buckingham Palace (Geoffrey Beevers pitch perfect as a royal equerry) and in one instance Balmoral, complete with two scene-stealing corgis.
The whole thing is as delectable – and safe – as afternoon tea at the Ritz.
We may not know exactly what has transpired down six decades between monarch and PM at theirconfidential weekly meetings but taking assiduous hints from published biographies Morgan presents a wholly sympathetic portrait of a woman corseted into silence by protocol, making the best of it (there’s even a humanising younger-self to express some imagined inner feelings) with undervalued liberal feelings (her support of the Commonwealth, her evident pleasure in the company of former Labour PM Harold Wilson), who might have preferred a plain country life.
Ending on an amusing but solid note of endorsement for constitutional monarchy, no wonder the theatre audience rose as one. Undemanding, but in its own terms, brilliant.
Queen Elizabeth II: Helen Mirren.
Anthony Eden: Michael Elwyn.
Margaret Thatcher: Haydn Gwynne.
Winston Churchill: Edward Fox.
Harold Wilson: Richard McCabe.
Gordon Brown: Nathaniel Parker.
John Major: Paul Ritter.
David Cameron: Rufus Wright.
James Callaghan/Ensemble: David Peart.
Equerry: Geoffrey Beevers.
Young Elizabeth: Bebe Cave/ Maya Gerber/ Nell Williams
Junior Equerries/Footmen: Harry Feltham, Matt Plumb.
Angela: Spencer Kitchen.
Ensemble: Jonathan Coote, Ian Houghton, Charlotte Moore.
Director: Stephen Daldry.
Designer: Bob Crowley.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Composer: Paul Englishby.
Video: Ian William Galloway.
Dialect coach: William Conacher.
Hair/Make-up: Ivana Primorac.
Wigs: Peter Owen.
Associate director: Justin Martin.
Associate designer: Rosalind Coombes.
World premiere of The Audience was at The Gielgud Theatre London on 15 February.