“The Audience” led by the one and only, Helen Mirren , who plays Queen Elizabeth II is an imagined look at the one-on-one weekly conversations between her majesty, and the twelve different Prime Ministers who have governed throughout the Queen’s reign. The Broadway ‘audience’ learns early on in “The Audience”, from the wonderful, Equerry played with aplomb by Geoffrey Beevers, just what the point of these weekly meetings between the Queen and the Prime Minister’s were allegedly about, and informs that they were conducted every Tuesday for twenty minutes at Buckingham Palace. What no one is completely certain about is exactly what was discussed in that infamous room between the Queen and her 12 different Prime Ministers for a span of 60 years. The new original play by Peter Morgan (“The Queen”, “Frost/Nixon”, “Rush”), does a great job of speculating the content of some of these conversations and casts his audience as flies on the wall consuming this often intimate exchange. At best we, the audience, get an interesting understanding of the often silent role the Queen must assume, and has assumed through twelve administrations. From an eager and young Elizabeth, who often seemed impassioned for change, to her more recent years where age often takes over to interest, but always present is a humorous and cheeky take on the current reign displayed by the every elusive Queen.
Probably one of the most fascinating aspects of “The Audience” is the extraordinary cast who play the 12 Prime Ministers, whom we learn more about their administration and struggles – both political and personal in some of these meetings. Often the exchange feels more like a psychiatrist session with the Queen as the trusted figure who elicits the Prime Minister’s most darkest confessions. We, the audience witness a young and eager Queen who begins her meetings with an elderly, yet sharp Winston Churchill, to the more relaxed and liberal years of Harold Wilson, and then of course the woman-on-woman years between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, where likeness of gender did not prove to equal a congruent era. Whether the truth of the era, or the relationship was copasetic or not, it’s the brilliance of the actors playing opposite Mirren, that elevate Morgan’s script, while shedding light on the Queen’s persona and life.
As much as the audience learns about the various administrations and their heads, one can’t help but speculate a glimmer of understanding of the Queen throughout the years. Morgan does an effective and indulgent move by casting a young Elizabeth who visits the Queen throughout the production, shedding light on a vulnerable and humane woman. Seeing a young Elizabeth being primed by the Mistress of the Robes for her future, and of course lack of normalcy, can at times be heart breaking, as is the special visits the Queen is paid by ‘young Elizabeth’ reminding her of the normal childhood she lacked. It’s these special moments that are sprinkled throughout the play that humanize the Queen, while showing her often overlooked complexities.
Having an audience witness “The Audience” is part of the brilliance of this refreshing new play, a phenomena that still occurs today between the Queen and the current Prime Minister, David Cameron. What’s also worth noting is the non-linear approach the script seems to move, jumping from era to era as Mirren changes her looks to reflect the appropriate Elizabeth. As twelve different Prime Minister’s come in and out with their sense of urgency and often baggage, the one thing that remains constant is the reigning Queen. “The Audience” plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre: 236 West 45th Street. Visit: http://theaudiencebroadway.com/