RAE’S PLAYS: “THE AUDIENCE”

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AUTHOR    PETER MORGAN
DIRECTOR    STEPHEN DALDRY
CAST

HELEN MIRREN
DYLAN BAKER
GEOFFREY BEEVERS
MICHAEL ELWYN
JUDITH IVEY
DAKIN MATTHEWS
RICHARD McCABE
ROD McLACHLAN
RUFUS WHITE

Having been well-received in London, THE AUDIENCE has travelled across the ocean and onto the Broadway stage. The play is a series of fictional vignettes peeking into the private meetings of Queen Elizabeth II of England and her Prime Ministers.
Set in “the private audience room” in Buckingham Palace, these Tuesday, twenty minute discussions are held between the Queen and England’s PM’s, commencing with Winston Churchill and culminating with David Cameron. We glimpse, during turbulence and peace, a series of conversations, a brief synopsis of political events. Sifting through the times, styles and eras, one discovers the temperaments of the Prime Ministers and their rapport with the Queen.
GEOFFREY BEAVERS as her Majesty’s Equerry, with unmistakable military gait and stance, he serves as the narrator and introduces us to the formalities and etiquette that encircle the Queen, her meetings and daily life.
DAKIN MATTHEWS seemingly resurrects the no nonsense gruffness of conservative Sir Winston Churchill, who in his advancing age, grasps to maintain his vestige of power.
MICHAEL ELWYN plays the conflicted, stressed and self-proclaimed “man of peace”, conservative Sir Anthony Eden. Ironically, Eden lived during some of England’s most tumultuous periods of historical conflict. He was removed as PM after only two years.
RICHARD McCABE twice serving as the PM, charmingly portrays the brash yet forthright, man of the people, Harold Wilson of the labour party.
JUDITH IVEY gives one of the most spectacular performances of the first female and the longest serving PM in over a century, conservative “Iron Lady”, Margret Thatcher.
DYLAN BAKER completely transforms into conservative, Sir John Major, the PM during Britain’s longest era of economic increase and development.
RUFUS WRIGHT depicts quick talking Bush supporter and labour party PM Tony Blair and conservative David Cameron, the present day and youngest PM since 1812.
ROD McLACHLAN converts into the staunch, environmentally aware yet overwhelmed labour party PM Gordon Brown.
It is of course HELEN MIRREN that metamorphoses as the doppelganger monarch: fluttering first as middle aged, then young, then to the present day and back again. Her capture of Queen Elizabeth II is seemingly effortless and astonishing to behold.  Not only her bearing and carriage but her voice and its inflections are eerily accurate. One can almost forget that it is Dame Helen on the stage and accede in believing that he or she is observing the actual Queen.
Playwright PETER MORGAN, the critically acclaimed writer of the Tony nominated play and Academy Award nominated Frost/Nixon lightly tints an outline of Queen Elizabeth’s duties and titles, infusing this lovely production with surprising humor. Who knew the Queen had quick and timely wit? Thru deft acting and dialogue, patrons receive a swift and imagined, yet remarkable insight linking the Queen and her rotation of England’s PM’s to newsworthy international incidents.
Directed by STEPHEN DALDRY (whose works include Billy Elliot the Musical and Skylight), creates scenes that flow like a well-rehearsed melodic Waltz. Viewers are gently escorted thru time and space while remaining (mostly) in one special room within Buckingham Palace. I don’t know why, but I consistently expected Royal Guards to enter. The standard formality of ceremony was strictly adhered, no matter the intimacy of the meeting. This rigidity always let the viewer know in whose home they were visiting.
BOB CROWLEY, whose spell bounding set of last seasons The Glass Menagerie, designs a grandiose and somewhat chilly atmosphere for the Queen’s audience room. With massive slate grey Tuscan-Roman columns, high ceiling, carpeted floor and an elaborate chandelier, while minimalistic, the sense of opulence and isolation is evident.  The two yellow, silk, antique chairs don the stage, meticulously spaced and appropriately communicating the expected distance between royalty and civilian.
IVANA PRIMORAC, through hair and make-up, transforms the cast and magically alters Ms. Mirren into the Queen from the beginning of her reign to the present day. Delighted gasps and applause from the theater patrons abound with the Queen’s first costume change.
A wonderfully added addition includes the Queen as a child. Viewers discover how Elizabeth matures in the awareness of her future responsibilities and restrictions. Child actresses Sadie Sink and Elizabeth Teeter, as the young heir apparent, question with validity the daunting expectations and changes that will be imposed. At times, when in dialogue with her adult self, we are given insight into how Elizabeth has grappled with matters that once perplexed her.
The Queen is depicted as having very little power in the operations of her country. This can be confusing after one explores the multitude of titles that are assigned to her. They seem never ending. Yet, it is up to us to determine what the play has pointed to from the past and what it is pointing toward for the future.
The Audience has moments of warmth and a respectable repertoire of genuinely witty discourse. I was surprised by the plays amount of humorous and thought-provoking one liners.
History was divulged without being preachy and there is an informative insert included with the playbill. Thank goodness! It is a very helpful guide for those of us who know very little to nothing about England’s politics and/or governmental structure.
What is the audience feedback? Sell out performances and nightly standing ovations. Critically speaking this is the only thing that really counts.

The Audience is currently playing at The Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

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