I had only recently learned about Queen Elizabeth II’s weekly meetings with Britain’s Prime Ministers, a tradition of the Monarchy that preceded her. The “audiences” are held in private in Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Estates each week. I say I had only recently learned about this and give thanks to the lavish Netflix series “The Crown”, written by Peter Morgan, that I really, truly, deeply have enjoyed and have watched twice.
Morgan, a British film writer and playwright, is known for writing The Queen, Frost/Nixon, Rush and The Last King of Scotland. He also wrote the stage play “The Audience” that debuted in London, England in February 2013 with Helen Mirren in the role as Queen Elizabeth II. The production then went on to Broadway in 2015. The play also appeared at the Apollo Theatre with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas taking on the role of the Queen. Now, Canada’s own Fiona Reid graces the stage in starring role in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until February 26, 2017.
If you have savoured every morsel of The Crown on Netflix, like I have, you will come into viewing the stage performance with some familiarities. However, the play only focuses on the private conversation (aka “The Audience”) between the Queen and the Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron. While the play itself doesn’t feature every PM, it’s still mind-boggling to realize that up to the point where Morgan had written this play, the Queen has held private “audiences” with twelve Prime Ministers…and counting.
I was so intrigued about what could have been discussed behind closed doors. What’s that saying? “To be a fly on the wall?” The Audience offers a glimpse into that world and jumps through a series of short stories in the play highlighting some of the most significant moments in time, although not in chronological order. Knowing about Britain’s political history is a benefit here but some moments need very little explaining to understand the weight of the situations. Winston Churchill was a great help to the young Queen giving her guidance on protocol and direction in her new role and memorable moments in both this play and in the Netflix series. John B. Lowe, carries the task of taking on Churchill in the Toronto production and delivers a powerful conversation with the Queen that catches everyone’s attention even if you’ve already heard it in The Crown. There are just some moments that are worth repeating. Kate Hennig portrays Margaret Thatcher here and portrays the intensity of the Iron Lady that is worth more time and lines on stage.
But aside for politics, we’re given a glimpse of the Queen’s personality away from all the seriousness of the monarchy. The play brings a more human, and sometimes humorous, glimpse of the Queen that we, the common folks, aren’t usually exposed to. Fiona Reid delivers some punchy one-liners that we’ve been told holds true to Queen Elizabeth II’s character. These quippy lines are much needed in the play- just think, watching conversations in sitting rooms could be quite dull otherwise. Even Reid’s character as the Queen recognizes this as at one point in the play as she nods off momentarily during one of her audiences.
I found it intriguing to watch Reid switch to various roles as the Queen as she moves through each scene not only in costume but also age (and as mentioned, not in chronological order either) and mannerisms. Swapping back and forth in costume as well as personality is an undeniable talent.
The Audience is now on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until February 26, 2017. For more information visit mirvish.com.