I’d watch Helen Mirren read the phone book, so tickets to Peter Morgan’s play The Audience in which Mirren reprises her Olivier- winning role as Queen Elizabeth II was a must get for me.
Despite New York Times critic Ben Brantley’s less than enthusiastic review of the production as a, “history-skimming chat show,” I thought it was wonderful.
“The audience” refers to the monarch’s weekly meeting with her prime minister–twenty minutes usually on a Tuesday. The play imagines these private conversations between the Queen and her PMs over many decades.
In her long reign, the Queen has been through twelve PMs (some served more than once.) For the benefit of American audiences, the program includes cheat sheet– brief biographical information about each PM as well an “interesting fact.”
Mirren, who played the monarch in the 2006 movie The Queen (screenplay also by Mr. Morgan), portrays Elizabeth as discreet, hardy, empathetic, and with a mild sense of humor. Labor PM Harold Wilson’s comment to the Queen, “You understand ordinary people, working people,” is however probably stretching the just like us with better jewelry analogy.
With the exception of Judith Ivey, who as Margaret Thatcher is burdened with a ridiculous wig, unflattering suit, and a wavering British accent, all the PMs are quite capable of keeping up with Mirren. Rich McCabe as folksy labor leader Harold Wilson is especially good.
If Elizabeth is really like Helen Mirren, (and who is to say otherwise,) the UK could do worse.