More than once I thought “what’s the point?” when watching the much hyped production of “The Audience” written by the star writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Deal, Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon), directed by the famous Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) and having at its centre another star – Dame Helen Mirren herself, reprising her role of Elizabeth II from “The Queen”.
The premise of the plot sounded interesting enough: the relationship between the queen and eight of the twelve prime ministers in her sixty years long reign, from Churchill to Cameron – shown through imagined scenes in their weekly tête-á-tête, the audience (thus the title of the play). Sure enough, Ms Mirren was superb in her role, changing from a young queen to an old queen to a middle aged queen and back. The supporting roles were top-notch as well, with Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson, Paul Ritter as John Major, Nathaniel Parker as Gordon Brown and an Edward Fox who did sound like Winston Churchill himself. Plus two real corgis on stage who stole the show. And Daldry’s direction was fine as well…. but the play… oh my oh my the play… was really just like a staged version of a Hello Special Edition on the queen’s reign. Here she is with Wilson in Balmoral *flash* here lectured by Churchill *flash* here with Thatcher *flash* here bored by Brown *flash*. The play clearly lacked focus and edge and provided only platitudes and clichés on the prime ministers and the queen but no new insights. The only time the play developed something like relevance was when the queen interrogated Anthony Eden on secret memos on the Suez crisis – clearly set up as a parallel to Tony Blair’s handling of the Iraq war (who by the way is otherwise absent from the play) but this interesting moment in the plays’s narrative comes soon to an end and it changes gear and focus again with the arrival of Margaret Thatcher. What really surprised me was how little use Morgan made of the opportunity to let the prime minister comment each other by letting the different audiences overlap and thus adding a bit of edge to the proceedings. Compared to Morgan’s brilliant “Frost/Nixon”, this play is a disappointment: a nice piece of fluff, greatly acted but nothing more.
In the Gielgud Theatre until 15 June 2013 http://www.theaudienceplay.com/home/