REVIEW: The Audience (Auckland Theatre Company)

Review by Cynthia Lam

The Audience, by Peter Morgan, dir Colin McColl , an Auckland Theatre Company Production. Photography Michael Smith.

[God Save the Queen]

Speaking to our fascination with what happens behind closed doors with one of the world’s most public figures, The Audience imagines and recreates Queen Elizabeth II’s weekly twenty-minute meetings with her Prime Ministers.  Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Colin McColl, The Audience spans a timeframe of over six decades, beginning with the Queen’s meetings with Winston Churchill and ending with David Cameron.  Although not presented in chronological order, we witness the Queen’s assertiveness and razor-sharp intelligence in her dealings with each of her Prime Ministers – from a young Queen challenging Churchill and changing from the way her father conducted his Audiences, to a rather ‘motherly’ and nurturing figure who enquires after the PM’s health and asks whether they have been sleeping.   

The Audience opens to the music of the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, and during my performance several audience members stood up and sang along. The set (Tracy Grant Lord as designer) — plush red carpets, black wooden doors framed with gold, large scenic paintings — also helps to set a suitably regal atmosphere.  The charm of this play lies in the strength of the actors as they portray their characters, their humour and very witty dialogue elicits a lot of laughs from the audience. Theresa Healey plays an elegant and formidable Queen Elizabeth II. Together with hair and costume design, I could immediately recognise some of the Prime Ministers once they took the stage — these include a very convincing Winston Churchill (played by Ian Mune), Margaret Thatcher (played by Hera Dunleavy, perfecting Thatcher’s accent and manner) and a rather boyish David Cameron (played by Adam Gardiner).  Harold Wilson (played by Cameron Rhodes) provides quite a bit of humour for the play with his slightly less ‘refined’ yet endearing personality. Other memorable performances include Roy Ward as John Major and Anthony Eden and Paul Barrett as The Equerry. The only portrayal I had an issue with and thought was not in alignment was that of Tony Blair, a rather dashing and debonair figure when first elected, but in this play presented as ridiculous and subject to constant mockery.  

The more poignant moments in the play involve the interaction between a Young Elizabeth (played by Nathalie Morris) and Queen Elizabeth II.  During these interactions we get to see a more vulnerable Queen Elizabeth II and her personal struggles of wanting to be ‘ordinary’ and fulfilling her duties not only as Queen, but also as a wife and wanting a successful marriage. 

Although The Audience does not follow the typical dramatic storyline of a three-act structure in which conflict is created and then a resolution follows, the play charts the life of the monarch as she, together with her Prime Ministers, navigate the political, familial and social changes in British history.  Certain conflicts are created such as when the Queen has an argument with one of her Prime Ministers about royal expenditure over her yacht the Britannia. For me, however, the emotional tension lies in the Queen’s internal struggles. One of the most moving moments of the play is when the Queen announces with an almost religious sense of sacred duty that ‘the most important moment of my life, above that of being a mother or wife, was when I became consecrated, not crowned’ on June 2 1953. All in all, I found The Audience a delight to watch.

The Audience is presented by Auckland Theatre Company and plays at ASB Waterfront Theatre until May 23.

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