Helen Mirren steps back into the role of Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience, pairing up again with Peter Morgan, with whom she worked on 2006's The Queen, and she hasn't lost anything along the way. The play is provocative by design, imagining what the sessions between The queen and the various prime ministers she's sat with through the decades would be like. We've seen The Queen grow older from a distance, and now we get to wonder what she's like when the doors close.
Morgan has to reinvent dialogue involving nine prime ministers, based on real events and research about the men and one woman who served during The Queen's reign. Each of these characters turns up in his or her own way, taking command of the conversation with the often refined Queen. But it's when The Queen loses her cool, or delivers a particularly witty remark, that you're reminded of how much one royal dignitary can offer her audience.
The curtain between government and royalty has been dropped. These conversations can range from the professional to the personal, but it's the one The Queen has with Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey) that stands out most from the bunch. Thanks to both Morgan's script and direction from Stephen Daldry, you can actually feel the coldness in the room as these two powerful women are forced to make the most of their time together. Even if the sessions are not true to historical form, you walk away feeling that you've better understood the range of responsibilities thrust onto The Queen.
Because the play doesn't run chronologically, you need to keep up with where we are in time, and her own lifecycle. It's her bond with Harold Wilson (played by Richard McCabe) that shows The Queen's more sympathetic side. It's during these scenes with Wilson in particular that American skeptics might grow more fond of the concept of the royal family. We get to consider the woman beneath the crown.
And what costumes and sets Bob Crowley provides for the audience's enjoyment. As The Queen is weighted on hand and foot, the costume changes come so smoothly and effortlessly that you barely realize they're happening right in front of you. It's a testament to both the magic of Broadway and the diligence with which The Queen's staff awards her. For one night, the regal and majestic qualities of royalty have you wondering about a world that never before felt so close at hand.
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