Though much was made of the fact that Samuel Hodges’ revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience would feature Theresa May, the outgoing PM makes the briefest of cameo appearances. It’s a small moment in this poised, elegant and understatedly clever new staging of Morgan’s play about the weekly meetings between the Queen and her prime ministers.
In its West End premiere in 2013, HRH was played by Helen Mirren, who also portrayed the monarch in Morgan’s film, The Queen. In Hodges’ production, Faye Castelow performs the role with impressive skill, subtly tempering the cut glass RP accent to reflect the real changes that have famously occurred over the decades. More so than in Morgan’s other royal drama, The Crown, Elizabeth is often witty and Castelow is particularly likeable when breaking protocol.
All seven male prime ministers featured are played by Paul Kemp, with Lizzie Hopley playing a terrifyingly icy Margaret Thatcher. On Rosanna Vize’s multi-level set, the endless supply of old white men occupying Britain’s highest political office comes in and out on a literal conveyer belt.
Kemp succeeds in making them distinguishable from each other. While he doesn’t quite capture Cameron, he’s instantly recognisable as Blair (obviously not one of the playwright’s favourites), Major and Wilson.
Morgan unapologetically paints a very flattering portrait of a divisive constitutional figure (this isn’t one for the avowed republicans). As a piece of theatre, it’s a beguiling display of stagecraft and entertainment: a good match for the pageantry and performance characterising royalty and politics.