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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE AUDIENCE
at Apollo Theatre

AMONG ROYALTY
By NICK CURTIS

  Kristin Scott Thomas and Nicholas Woodeson/ Ph: Johan Persson

This revival of Peter Morgan’s playful work, imagining some of Queen Elizabeth’s confidential weekly meetings with the 12 prime ministers of her reign, is sadly premature. The hoity-toity Kristen Scott Thomas steps into the regal role just two years after the earthier Helen Mirren first played it in London, and while she is reprising it on Broadway, both times to great acclaim. Scott Thomas suffers by comparison. She looks like she’s trying on the part for a lark where Mirren immersed herself in it, and is skittish and reliant on typical facial tics and tricks where the older actress was impeccably, implacably regal.

The play, too, updated and then retweaked in light of PM David Cameron’s re-election, feels lighter and less impressive second time round. In Stephen Daldry’s production – he must be able to direct it in his sleep now – it remains a clever, witty and very enjoyable piece of work, but not quite the modern classic it previously seemed. It illuminates the Queen’s role as an unchanging symbol against which her politicians and her subjects measure themselves, but the gimmick of having her converse with her childhood self feels like a phoney way into her psyche.

Morgan imagines that politicians let go and speak frankly in these private audiences at Buckingham Palace. Perfectly plausible, though I doubt many indulge themselves in the extreme emotions shown the unloved by John Major and Gordon Brown here. Tony Blair has been written in, played in the same bouncy, salesman-like style and by the same actor as Cameron. The new scene with the re-elected Cameron overplays its one good gag: the Queen nodding off. A parallel drawn between the Iraq War and the Suez Crisis highlights how much historical explication the script contains.

As before, the most moving encounters are with her first prime minister, Winston Churchill, and with Harold Wilson, here played by Nicholas Woodeson. The unlikely but utterly affection Morgan imagines between the blunt northern Labour leader and the Queen is the most pleasing part of the play, and Woodeson subtly and movingly suggests Wilson’s horror as he teeters on the brink of dementia. Though otherwise disappointing, this too-soon revival is worth seeing for that alone.

 


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