When writing about Helen Mirren’s performance as Queen Elizabeth in The Audience, a new play by Peter Morgan, opportunities for puns abound, but I will do my best to resist.
Mirren is no stranger to the QE2; she won an Academy Award for her performance as the monarch in the movie “The Queen,” also by Morgan. But seeing her embody the role live is an entirely new, and thrilling, experience.
Morgan’s play imagines the private meetings between the Queen and her Prime Ministers which are, in real life, held behind closed doors and strictly confidential. The play spans several decades, going from Winston Churchill (delightfully played by Dakin Matthews) all the way to Tony Blair (Rufus Wright).
The Audience also dips into the Queen’s history, with her childish counterpart (played at different performances by Elizabeth Teeter and Sadie Sink) appearing and interacting with the adult Queen. It also skims the surface of how the responsibilities of the monarchy affected Elizabeth’s view of herself as a wife. The play does not progress in chronological order; instead it moves from decade to decade with Mirren swiftly transitioning from a youthful woman to an aged monarch in mere moments.
These transformations are nothing short of remarkable, both in their speed and efficacy. Mirren’s ability to move her posture, cadence of speech and mannerisms so thoroughly serve as a master class in acting for the audience. While the play itself is not the most thorough examination of life inside Buckhingham Palace, Mirren’s performance is a true delight, as are the various Prime Ministers she interacts with. Dylan Baker plays John Major with subtly, Judith Ivey chews the scenery as Margaret Thatcher and Richard McCabe is especially entertaining as Harold Wilson.
I especially enjoyed watching Mirren embody the quietly rebellious spirit of Elizabeth, which we see, has not left her completely since childhood. She is a woman who owns her power in quiet, subtle ways.
The play is – forgive me, I couldn’t resist – a royal delight.
Helen Mirren (Queen Elizabeth II), Dylan Baker (John Major), Geoffrey Beevers (Equerry), Michael Elwyn (Anthony Eden), Judith Ivey (Margaret Thatcher), Dakin Matthews (Winston Churchill), Richard McCabe (Harold Wilson), Rod McLachlan (Gordon Brown), Rufus Wright (David Cameron/Tony Blair), Elizabeth Teeter (Young Elizabeth) and Sadie Sink (Young Elizabeth).