The Audience – NT Live

This was the second time I saw The Audience by Peter Morgan, both times via NT Live. Encore screenings were scheduled last month to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, along with a Q&A after the play with Helen Mirren and the director Stephen Daldry.

Every week, when both are in the UK, Queen Elizabeth II meets the Prime Minister at Buckingham Palace. The meetings are completely private and no minutes or records are kept. This play is a fictionalised account of what she may have discussed with the 12 Prime Ministers of her reign. Not all Prime Ministers are included, but the starring ones are Churchill, Thatcher, Cameron, Callaghan (briefly!), Major, Wilson, Eden and Brown.

It is an extremely well written play, moving and very funny. What made it particularly special during the original run is that the final scene between the Queen and David Cameron was updated regularly to include references to current news, such as the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy. The meetings are also not in chronological order, which meant that Helen Mirren had some very quick and very clever costume and wig changes on stage. Mirren, as you would expect, is fantastic. She shows the ‘human’ side of the Queen that we rarely see in public, her nerves during her first meeting as monarch with Churchill who tries to intimidate her, her empathy with Brown who is clearly suffering from depression and Wilson when he is diagnosed with Alzheimers, and her sadness when it is mentioned that Britannia should be sold. There are several lighter moments, particularly with Wilson (Richard McCabe), who we also see at Balmoral. He is rumoured to have been the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, which may be true as apart from Churchill he is the only PM with whom she has dined at Downing Street. I was also very pleased to see some Corgis make a brief appearance!

A wonderful play which was just as enjoyable the second time around.

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