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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Audience
Apollo Theatre  Spring-Summer 2015

Peter Morgan's 2013 imagining of what goes on during the Queen's weekly meetings with her Prime Ministers returns with a few textual revisions and a wholly new cast, led by Kristin Scott Thomas stepping under the crown previously worn by Helen Mirren (who is currently engaged in the same play on Broadway).

There is no reason that the play should not be as successful this time around. While Kristin Scott Thomas doesn't have the automatic association with the role that Mirren brought from her film performance, she has unquestionable star power and creates an attractive image of what the Queen might actually be like. 

A long time ago someone pointed out that British actors and comedians attempting an Indian accent were all really imitating Peter Sellers in his goodness-gracious-me mode. And I suspect that for a long time in the future actresses portraying the Queen will actually be playing Helen Mirren playing the Queen. 

Kristin Scott Thomas doesn't imitate Helen Mirren, which means that she may not seem like your image of the Queen at first. She's less dry and wry, more open and warm. 

Several of the Prime Ministers she is shown meeting with over the years are presented as insecure or troubled for one reason or another – Michael Gould's John Major as a shy bureaucrat uncomfortable in the limelight, Gordon Kennedy's Gordon Brown weighed down by a job he's wanted all his life and now fears he can't handle – and Scott Thomas makes the Queen almost maternal in her sympathy and reassurances. 

On the other hand, even against David Calder's imperious and lecturing Churchill the young Queen asserts her strength and determination to shape things in her image, and she makes sure that each of his successors knows who's boss. 

With eight of the Queen's twelve Prime Ministers represented, few of the actors get the chance to register or do more than sketch in characterisations. 

Calder's Churchill and Sylvestra Le Touzel's Thatcher are standard-issue near-cartoons, and only Nicholas Woodeson as a canny Harold Wilson playing the uncultured-northerner card to disguise a sharp intellect is given the opportunity to round out the character and justify playwright Morgan's guess that he was the Queen's favourite. 

The play rarely gets involved in too much historical detail, being satisfied with the glimpses of imagined personalities. The nearest it comes to political comment is having Tony Blair justify the invasion of Iraq in exactly the same words Anthony Eden uses about the Suez debacle. 

It goes without saying that the play is a near-hageography of the Queen, presenting her as unswervingly wise, gracious, warm and humorous, if perhaps a little more conservative as she ages, though it does go so far as to suggest that just perhaps she may not have had unbridled admiration and affection for Mrs. Thatcher. 

The play jumps around in time, which gives the star the opportunity to age or youthen repeatedly with a quick change of dress, wig and manner of carrying herself, offering the audience the additional pleasure of appreciating her masterful technique. 

The Audience makes no claim to high drama or even to more-than-guesswork accuracy of characterisation. It is designed as an entertainment for tourists, and as such it should be thoroughly successful.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review - The Audience - Apollo Theatre 2015  
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