"The Audience" played at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End of London and was filmed on June 13 by its producers, the National Theatre. The play reunites Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth with Peter Morgan, who wrote "The Queen." The play is so Morganic with his riparian flow through history, his sterling handling of comic relief and tragic posture, his way with words. The dialogues could be appreciated flat on a page, but it is Mirren's way with his words that matters in execution. Each Tuesday for 20 minutes, the Queen, enthroned for 60 years, meets with her Prime Minister, who catches her up on the goings-on of the country. The audience is confidential, even from spouses. Before Elizabeth, Prime Ministers never sat, which kept the meetings short, but she offered Churchill, her first P.M., a seat in the yellow-upholstered chairs, introduced in the play by her equerry, played by Geoffrey Beevers.
Morgan does not trip through the P.M.s like tulips. He meanders back and forth through history, which means that the costumer and wig-maker for the main character have to wander with him. Some of the costume changes, especially the first, when the Queen transforms from a woman d'un certain age into a twenty-something, grieving for her father and newly queened, must greet Mr. Churchill, played for voice not body by Edward Fox. He arrives in a bluster to tell her how it's done; she arrives with questions and re-configures the conversation. She meets with men she likes enormously, like Harold Wilson, played charmingly by Richard McCabe. The engagement with Margaret Thatcher, played chillingly by Haydn Gwynne, is award-worthy.
Through the parade of P.M.s, Morgan adds textural scenes with Elizabeth as a girl, played so well by Bebe Cave; with Bobo McDonald, her Scottish nanny; and even with two well-behaved corgis, Rocky and Coco.
The play is directed by Stephen Daldry, who directed "The Hours" and "Billy Elliot," and who honors history and dramaturgy with his deft touch. The film version includes a dandy interview with Morgan and a short film on the costumes.
"The Audience" defines good acting, brilliant writing, fine direction, canny understanding. It is both moving and amusing, and we are lucky to be invited to an audience with the queen. It played at the Tivoli Theatre only on Saturday, June 29 at 11 a.m. and on Sunday, June 30 at noon and will be re-run on August 10th and 11th.