By: Patrick Christiano
Oscar winner Helen Mirren is returning to Broadway as Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s political look at her weekly meetings with her Prime Ministers. Mirren won a slew of Awards, including the 2007 Oscar for the
2006 film "The Queen," also written by Morgan, and she is simply astonishing in the role. The play debuted two years ago in London, where Mirren also picked up the Olivier Award for best actress. Her riveting portrayal gives off an elegantly cool demeanor with flashes of the real person beneath the surface.
She is the Queen and her performance makes her the front runner for this year’s Tony Award for best Actress. Her delightfully regal presence on Broadway is probably the closest facsimile to the real Queen most Americans will ever experience.
The play handsomely directed by Stephen Daldry is an engrossing story that begins in 1995, but jumps back and forth in time while parading all of her Prime Ministers into Buckingham Palace’s audience room, where these weekly meetings take place over a period of 60 years. Both the Queen and her Prime Ministers have an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is aid, not even to their spouses.
For over two hours The Audience imagines a succession of these key meetings as stream of Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to the current Prime Minister David Cameron, 12 in all since her coronation in 1951, take center stage with the Queen. There are also flashbacks to the young Elizabeth’s reticence to wearing the crown. At age 11 she describes living in Buckingham Palace, "like being trapped in a museum." And we see her gradual acceptance of her duties along with visits to her stately retreat in Scotland.
Each Prime Minister uses these private discussions with the Queen as a sounding board and sometimes an intimate confessional, sometimes even turning explosive. For her part the Queen can’t help but reveal herself as she advises consoles and, spars with her Prime Ministers, but never revealing her true political position. These private audiences chart a brief arc of her ascendancy to the throne from the beginning of Elizabeth II’s reign to today. Politicians come and go through the revolving door of elections, while she remains the one constant, waiting to welcome her next Prime Minister.
In addition to the sensational Helen Mirren , the outsrtanding cast for The Audience includes Dylan Baker (John Major), Geoffrey Beevers (The Queen’s Equerry), Michael Elwyn (Sir Anthony Eden), Judith Ivey (Margaret Thatcher), Dakin Matthews (Winston Churchill), Richard McCabe (Harold Wilson), Rod McLachlan (Gordon Brown), Rufus Wright (David Cameron), Anthony Cochrane (Cecil Beaton / Detective / Bishop), Graydon Long (Footman / Beefeater), Jason Loughlin (Footman / Beefeater), Michael Rudko (Ensemble), Henny Russell (Queen’s Secretary), Tracy Sallows (Bobo McDonald), Elizabeth Teeter (Young Elizabeth), and Tony Ward (Ensemble).
The regal production is designed by six-time Tony Award winner Bob Crowley with lighting by two-time Tony Award winner Rick Fisher, sound by Tony Award winner Paul Arditti, and music by Paul Englishby.
Bottom Line: Mirren holds court in a smart yet brief look at her reign.
The Audience is now playing at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street, for a limited run through June 26. For tickets call 212-329-6200 or the audiencebroadway.com
Photos: Joan Marcus
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