John Bowles is a respected tv presenter, theatre and concert performer.
The Gielgud Theatre – London – until June 15th, 2013
When Margaret Thatcher (Hayden Gwynne) strode onto the stage of The Gielgud Theatre yesterday, there was an audible hush. The ceremonial funeral of Baroness Thatcher was still in progress as the matinee started, so to hear her speak to us, through the dialogue of the play, in conversation with The Queen (Helen Mirren) was thrilling and revealing; the script gave the former prime minister an opportunity to defend some of her politics which is something that has been missed in the over-emotional response to her death during the past week.
The Audience, written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, is inspired by the weekly meetings that The Queen has had with her Prime Ministers throughout her long reign. You can’t help but wonder what tantalizing tid-bits the writer has researched for us as you take your seat, but it quickly becomes evident, that there is nothing new to be revealed. The secret to the success of this play is that we hear the conversations, see the looks and glances, watch the politicking and games unfold in the same way that we have always suspected they would. It’s as if the entire “sold out” crowd at The Gielgud Theatre breathed a slow but collective sigh together; re-assured that the conversations are everything they should be.
Of course, these conversations could never actually happen as they do on stage, I suspect in real life there is much more left unsaid, in relationships that in many cases spanned several years, and that is the beauty of “theatre”. This play is really the Queen having a conversation with us, and at times even with herself, as a young Princess Elizabeth (Bebe Cave) appears and starts chatting innocently with her older self. The moments when both of them stand facing the audience, pretending to peer out of the front windows of Buckingham Palace, are charming.
Edward Fox, as Churchill, conducts the first audience. It’s a thrill to see two such well-loved and admired actors sharing the stage. He is master to a very young Queen, and as Mirren transforms into the older version of the monarch, before our eyes, we see that she has since learned to be master. And so the play goes… moments grabbed from history, played out in private, and now served up for our enjoyment.
This is a living and breathing play, not only because the main character is still alive, along with many of the past leaders, but because the Tuesday evening meetings still occur. When The Queen says to David Cameron (Rufus Wright) “I shall see you next week” and he replies, “I’m afraid not, because of the funeral.” You are reminded that they are referring to today, this very moment!
And when the audience rose to their feet at the completion of the performance were they cheering for Helen Mirren, or perhaps our reigning monarch? I suspect both.