A few weeks ago I went to see the dress rehearsal of the The Audience, a new play at the Gielgud Theatre starring Helen Mirren as the Queen. I meant to write about it straight away, but now it's out and has been reviewed extensively, but my draft is still here, so I'll go ahead. I was lucky enough to go the very first performance in front of alive audience, because I know two of the three producers - Robert Fox and Andy Harries. I also used to go out with the writer Peter Morgan, who also scripted the film, The Queen.
The Audience is directed by Stephen Daldry who made a short appearance before the curtains went up to inform the real audience that the play was still a work in progress -the only sign of that being that Robert Hardy who played Churchill forgot his lines a couple of times, but he has since been replaced by Edward Fox because he fell ill. Apparently one of the Queens Corgis has been sacked for running off the wrong way every night!
The play imagines the weekly meetings between Queen and her Primeministers' over her 60 year reign, an extraordinary length of time to be in the same job. In the recent ITV documentary I was extremely impressed to discover that the Queen goes through her red box every single day of the year, except Christmas Day and occasionally (her private secretary added) on her birthday. She was also very involved in all aspects of her duties. Once scene showed her walking around the table before a state banquet (with a posse of four fawning courtiers) to check that everything was in the right place and deciding that the pineapples had been placed too near the place mats.
Both the Queen and her primeminister are sworn to secrecy during the weekly meetings - so Morgan did a very good job imagining what goes on. 'The Queen' kept reminding us that her job is to support her Primeminister's, even when she doesn't agree with them. This came across most vividly in the meeting between her and Margaret Thatcher over imposing sanctions to South Africa. The Queen was all for sanctions as she wanted to help her commonwealth subjects end apartheid.
Helen Mirren will win top prizes for her performance, quite frankly she is the Queen. She ages and becomes young again in the most uncanny way, changing seamlessly on stage between the scenes which are not in chronological order. Wilson was played sympathetically by Richard McCabe, who according to the script was the Queen's favourite Primeminister, and the only one apart from Churchill who dined privately with the Queen. He was both funny in the role and particularly poignant when he steps down at the outset of alziehmers. The play is interspersed with scenes of the Queen as a young girl -played brilliantly by Helen Baxendale's daughter the night we saw it - complete with highly posh 1940's accent -riding her bicycle through the set depicting Buck Palace with the use of clever perspective, making it look vast. The-Queen-as-a-young-girl-scenes remind us that the Queen was born with her destiny already mapped out, and she has a much harder job than I had ever imagined. Definitely worth booking, if tickets are still available.