The Audience, a play about Queen Elizabeth II talking with eight of her Prime Ministers, may not sound like compelling drama to many. But when the script is written by Peter Morgan — who so brilliantly explored the relationship between her Majesty and Tony Blair in the Oscar nominated film The Queen — and the role of Elizabeth is once again in the immensely capable hands of Dame Helen Mirren, you are in for an enjoyable and enlightening evening.
If you don’t know your Anthony Eden from your Gordon Brown or your parliamentary procedure from a ham sandwich, there’s no need to panic. The action is introduced and clarified by a droll Geoffrey Beevers as the Equerry. Following his background information won’t secure an A in English history, but it’s enough to help you grasp the significance of the proceedings you are about to witness. Mr. Morgan increases the level of engagement by laying out the events as they relate to one another rather than chronologically. We come to understand how each relationship and experience enriches the others.
Ms. Mirren has obviously continued to study her subject (if one can use that phrase to describe royalty). Her tone, body language and expressions are perfect reflections of Queen Elizabeth without actually being imitation. It is a delight to watch the masterful actress move silkily among ages ranging between 26 and 88, aided by director Stephen Daldry’s clever staging and Bob Crowley’s spot-on design.
The performances delivered by the assorted PMs are of less uniform quality. Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson is a particular revelation, helped along by having the most layered dialogue. Rufus Wright elegantly takes on David Cameron and, in a more recently added flash-back, Tony Blair. Surprisingly, the usually wonderful Dylan Baker as John Major appears ill at ease and occasionally loses track of his accent, while the equally gifted Judith Ivey’s interpretation of Margaret Thatcher is crushed under a tsunami of wig and teeth. It should be noted that I attended the last preview, so these rough edges may be smoothed out during the run. Regardless, there are enough bright spots to increase the heartbeat of any anglophile and the appreciation level of the more casual viewer.
The Audience is scheduled to run through June 28 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. For tickets and information, visit http://theaudiencebroadway.com.