Monday, June 17, 2013

"The Audience" (NTLive) - June 2013

Although we’ve been absent from the theatre for several months, it was never far away from our thoughts.  Indeed, at one point we came very close to booking up for a London trip with “The Audience” as the focus for our weekend, so when our trip fell through we were delighted to see that it was to feature as part of NT Live and be broadcast to cinemas around the UK and beyond.  We've seen a few NT Live shows in the past at the GFT and found the concept to work very well, and our concerns that that the intimacy might be lost in a large auditorium at the Cineworld were quickly dispelled.

Rather oddly, I was quite taken aback a little by the humorous tone of Peter Morgan’s play.  I can’t quite pin down why, but I was definitely expecting a more serious, possibly even academic, series of imagined conversations between Elizabeth II and her Prime Ministers over her 60 years on the throne.  Whilst Morgan’s writing certainly has its more sombre and political moments, it’s first and foremost a light hearted piece of entertainment.  The Queen’s encounters with John Major, Gordon Brown and David Cameron evoke the gentle-but-sharp humour of “Yes Minister” while those with Harold Wilson show a more relaxed monarch with a genuine affection for the politician.  During the interval Morgan when interviewed suggested that he couldn’t claim his imagined accounts were ‘accurate’ but hoped they were ‘truthful’, but I’m not entirely convinced there isn’t more than a little rose-tint being applied to all the characters featured here. 

The completist in me can’t help but feel a little cheated by the absence of some of those who have resided at No.10 including Ted Heath and Tony Blair.  While Morgan would no doubt argue that he’s already covered the Queen/Blair relationship on screen, on stage it felt like a missing chapter.  Although Eden receives an uncomfortable grilling over Suez, and troubles with Blair are hinted at, it’s perhaps Margaret Thatcher who receives the harshest treatment over her approach to apartheid South Africa. Surprisingly, despite an impressive portrayal by Haydn Gwynne, the scene with Thatcher is a bit of a lull in the proceedings where sparks were expected to fly – leaving both Waldorf and myself glancing at watches for the first and only time of the evening.

Of course, Helen Mirren is the star attraction here and she doesn't disappoint. It's almost breathtaking at time to watch the flash transformations between the eras and Mirren convinces entirely from the young novice finding her feet to the present day Queen who has seen-it-all-before.  It's a very demanding role with almost no time off stage (if any - as this was NT Live she may have just been out of shot) and in addition to the segments with each Prime Minister, Morgan uses a nice conceit to bring the young Princess Elizabeth on stage to interact with her older self.    

All in, this was a very enjoyable evening out at the 'theatre' and has given us a bit of our appetite for seeing some more 'proper' local theatre in the near future.

The Audience has completed its run at the Gielgud Theatre, but 'encore' performances of the NT Live show are available at cinemas across the country over the next couple of weeks.

Image by Johan Persson used with permission.

1 Heckle

Anonymous said...

Just to say it's good to see you in the stalls again :-)