If you have never been to Buckingham Palace, you can now have an intimate view in The Audience, starring Helen Mirren as the queen, imported across the pond to Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. However much conjured in your imagination, the room in which Queen Elizabeth meets with her Prime Minister every Tuesday (with one exception) over six decades, the premise of this sharply conceived drama under Stephen Daldry's superb direction, is described in vivid detail by an Equerry in full regalia. A dazzling chandelier hangs overhead, two chairs of precise lineage and upholstery reign over the otherwise bare stage, a triumph of understated opulence, in Bob Crowley's masterful design. And the queen herself, the magnificent Helen Mirren who has honed this role wig to wig, dowdy dress to coronation jewels, nails imperious, witty, wise, sympathetic and politically astute to a tee.
Of course, Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her role in The Queen, featuring the royal house in the specificity of conflicted emotion over the death of Princess Diana. Here the doomed icon gets hardly a mention. Rather, in Peter Morton's clever and humorous work of historic fiction, the queen moves in and out of time, not chronologically, waxing wise on world events, and with the wizardry of dressers, changes costume onstage, hair graying or reversing to youthful brown, with a parade of prime ministers passing through. We also get a glimpse into her thoughts in dialogue with her younger self (Sadie Sink in the production I saw): She assures the young girl with a sense of superiority, "No matter how old-fashioned, expensive, and unjustifiable we are, we will STILL be preferable to an elected president."
Act II opens in Balmoral, the royal country retreat, which features fine woven throws and a heater from Woolworth's. A pair of dogs goes far to enhance the homey feel. Her majesty loves the great outdoors and insists upon picnics in all weather. She holds court nestled in the mountains until a photo session with Cecil Beaton (Anthony Cochrane) brings us back to Buckingham. The parade of PMs includes fine performances all around, especially Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson, Dakin Matthews as Winston Churchill, Dylan Baker as John Major, Rufus Wright as David Cameron and Tony Blair, and Judith Ivey as Margaret Thatcher, (although for a moment you think, where is Meryl Streep?) In the end, you cannot help admiring this Queen Elizabeth, in this prison of a life for a mere human, for holding up her end, rising to every historic moment. And Helen Mirren's brilliant performance may be the fullest image of Queen Elizabeth in the public mind.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.
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