Helen Mirren is currently reprising the role of the Queen for which she previously won an Oscar in Stephen Frears’ 2006 film and received a Tony nomination for the Broadway staging of Peter Morgan’s 2013 play. So a role she has patented falls instead to the equally regal Kristin Scott Thomas, now a queen of the West End stage – thanks to starring roles in plays such as Electra, Old Times, Betrayal and The Seagull – as The Audience returns.
But there’s something less warmly convincing and convivial than Mirren managed to achieve. At times, she’s a bit panto dame Queen, with a lot of tilted-head-and-quizzical-looks acting. She was also hesitant about her lines on the night I saw the performance.
Fortunately, however, Morgan’s play still reaches the parts that Thomas doesn’t, as we meet a woman who has lived her life behind a cloak of invisibility yet is at the same time one of the most visible people in the world.
It is Morgan’s brilliant ruse to provide an entirely imagined, but eerily plausible, account of what might have been said behind closed doors in the Queen’s weekly meetings with eight of the 12 prime ministers that have served under her reign (so far) – though that number may yet change later this week (Morgan’s script has been brought bang up-to-date, as we witness David Cameron’s last meeting with her before he dissolves parliament to go to the polls).
These include fond encounters with Harold Wilson (a scene-stealing Nicholas Woodeson), a perplexed, under-educated John Major (Michael Gould), and the depression-prone Gordon Brown (Gordon Kennedy).
There are also very convincing portraits of Winston Churchill (from David Calder) and Cameron (Mark Dexter). One disappointment is Sylvestra le Touzel, who is more Thatcher-lite than Thatcher-like. But complete with two live corgis, this is a perfect West End hit.
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