Review Round-up: Mirren reclaims throne with The Audience
Date: 6 March 2013
Stephen Daldry's production of The Audience starring Helen Mirren premiered at the Gielgud Theatre last night (5 March 2013, previews from 15 February).
Peter Morgan's play sees Mirren reprise the role of Queen Elizabeth II, for which she won an Oscar in Morgan-scripted 2006 film The Queen, and reveals a series of pivotal meetings between various Downing Street incumbents and their Queen.
With a cast also including Haydn Gwynne, Edward Fox, Nathaniel Parker and Rufus Wright, The Audience runs until 15 June.
…The surprise element in Peter Morgan's highly entertaining new play… is its imaginative range, lack of sentimentality and incisive intelligence. And in Helen Mirren's brilliant but un-showy performance - magically still and dignified, with a glancing look of either regret or critical intervention despatched along her own left shoulder and arm… In Stephen Daldry's extraordinarily clever production of The Audience… The chronology is fluid, dream-like in Buckingham Palace itself, designed by Bob Crowley as a marble-pillared hall of receding perspectives where Mirren, in a series of brilliant costume-changes, and superbly differentiated wigs, braces herself for revealing encounters… But the most striking structural device is that of pairing Mirren with her younger self... It's a beautifully poised theatrical element in an evening that never slips into a series of sketches, and in Mirren's performance goes way beyond that...
…The Audience is more than just a reprise: the character seems newly and richly inhabited. The play reunites Mirren with The Queen’s writer Peter Morgan. It is also a welcome return for director Stephen Daldry. The results are elegant and sometimes very funny. Mirren is onstage almost all the time, thanks in part to some startlingly quick costume changes, and delivers a performance of skill and subtlety… The chronology is jumpy, so as to avoid the sense of a stately procession. But for all the good looks and neatness of Daldry’s staging (complete with waddling corgis), it’s hard not to feel that the play could be more dynamic. It resembles a set of sketches, albeit with strong thematic links. Still, they add up to an absorbing whole. And Mirren is superb: there are playful touches, a restrained sensitivity, and above all an air of dignified solitude.
What a great if faintly guilty pleasure this play proves… Very wisely Morgan avoids a chronological plod… What’s remarkable is that Mirren is unobtrusively changed on stage into different costumes and wigs to suggest different periods of her reign and is almost eerily persuasive whatever age she is playing… The Audience is often wonderfully funny, with the Queen proving a deft mistress of the verbal barb, but also genuinely moving… Star billing after Mirren must go to Richard McCabe for his wonderful Wilson... Paul Ritter is equally affecting as John Major… Stephen Daldry directs a pitch-perfect production, with a truly palatial design by Bob Crowley. And yes, there are real Corgis on stage, too.
...Helen Mirren, who once again gives a faultless performance that transcends mere impersonation... As a dramatist, however, Morgan faces two problems. One is that no one ever knows what is said at these weekly tête-à-têtes since they are un-minuted. The other, more serious, is that in a constitutional monarchy, the Queen has no authority to contradict policy… However hard Morgan tries, the evening can't help but seem like a series of revue sketches: a kind of "1956 And All That". What holds it together is Stephen Daldry's adroit production and Helen Mirren's luminous performance... Mirren also captures the Queen's mix of the extraordinary and the ordinary… if Morgan's speculative and essentially static high-class political gossip – what you might call Pepys behind the scenes – acquires emotional resonance, it is largely thanks to the naturally majestic Mirren.
…The resulting vignettes are of variable quality but they add up to considerably more here than the sum of their parts. This is thanks to the thematically piercing idea of presenting the encounters non-chronologically – a format which is expressed with a haunting, magical malleability by Stephen Daldry's superlative (and beautifully designed) production. And the 67 year old Mirren rises to the daunting technical challenge… Watching Mirren convey, with astonishing skill, the Queen's fluctuating freight of experience (she's hardly offstage and some of the costume/wig changes are done in plain view) brings this home with all the might of metaphor… there are aspects that you know have palpable designs on you that are so well-handled that you willingly acquiesce. Richard McCabe is superb as Harold Wilson… Mirren's tartly humorous and profoundly human portrayal… is magnificent. She makes The Audience a right-royal great night out.
…funny and truthful, good-hearted, spiky, full of surprises. I loved every minute… The parade of prime ministers is not chronological but thematic… Morgan’s imaginations are anchored in history: there are stunning political moments, sometimes oblique... It’s all fiction, of course, and often painfully funny… Mirren is well at ease with her royal persona, spanning the decades with discreet lighting, wig-changes and costumes... Stephen Daldry directs with filmic economy… Even the briefest scenes have lovely touches… From time to time the child Elizabeth wanders by, plummily 1940s in nightdress or Brownie uniform. She is sombrely warned by her older self: “No one will ever call you by your name. Or look you in the eye.” No, there is nothing cheap or inhumane in Morgan’s mosaic of the personal, political and poignant. And yes, there are corgis. Two.