March 25, 2015
Longevity breeds political wisdom in Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. In her masterful Broadway performance, Mirren fills the stage with her command of language, style and sympathy. The Audience, written by Peter Morgan is simply, and pointedly directed by Stephen Daldry.
Ripped from her adolescence to rule a war ravaged nation in 1951, Queen Elizabeth’s decisive nature becomes apparent from the earliest days of her reign. Primarily a titular ruler, the British monarch holds great sway with the public and ultimately, each elected prime minister.
We eavesdrop on the private audience between the Queen and Prime Minister du jour. Only the avuncular Winston Churchill (Dakin Matthews) guides the Queen in her new duties; the rest sit at attention. Naturally, the play fans across sweeping historical developments in Great Britain and abroad. That adds to the show’s infotainment value.
Along the way, audiences are privy to the interior design, in particular the chairs, where the two sit, rather formally. Each decade brings a slew of social and political complications, bound by the Prime Minister’s personality. Naturally some were more to her liking than others. The competitive purse wheeling Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey) was not a favorite, but then, the ungainly and completely unvarnished Labor Party leader Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe) was appreciated. In fact, Wilson scores an invitation to Balmoral Castle replete with brisk walks, dogs in tow, stiff drinks and casual conversations in front of the fireplace.
Witty and wise, Mirren captures the deep creases of a life convulsed by political and technological upheavals, a tragic public heroine—her daughter in-law Diana—and a country constantly weighing the burdens and riches of a monarchy.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Celia Ipiotis