Theater News Online
free issue
London Theatre Reviews
NY Theater Reviews
LTN Recommendations
NYTN Recommendations
Book Reviews
Movie Reviews
London Theatre Archives
NY Theater Archives
Latest New York News
Latest London News
NY News Archives
London News Archives
Peter Filichia's Monday Quiz
Dining and Travel
London Theatre Listings
NY Broadway Listings
Off-Broadway Listings
London Tickets
Advertise with us

Subscribe
Renew
Give a Gift


Logo

Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE AUDIENCE
at the Gielgud

INSIDE THE PALACE
By JOHN NATHAN

  Paul Ritter and Helen Mirren/ Ph: Johan Persson

There is unquestionable pedigree here, and I don't only mean the play's subject, Queen Elizabeth II, and the real corgis that scamper across the stage. This production stars a superb Helen Mirren in a role she already made her own with the movie The Queen, and is written by the same writer – our top fly-on-the-wall playwright Peter Morgan, who also turned the Frost/Nixon encounters into such gripping drama. It's also directed by Stephen Daldry, a man with an assured gilt-edged touch on both screen and stage.

Add to this list of theatrical royalty an intriguing idea that attempts to lift the lid on the traditional weekly conversations between the Queen and the British prime minister of the day, and what do we get? Well, a hugely effective, at times touching portrait of a woman who, in Morgan's version of modern history, serves as a sort of psychiatrist to the 13 prime ministers who ruled during her reign. We see eight of them here. From Gordon Brown kvetching about being snubbed by Obama, to Anthony Eden informing Elizabeth that Britain is about to go to war in the Middle East over Suez.

The action mostly takes place in the first-floor Buckingham Palace room where the briefings take place. Bob Crowley's design of the palace interiors – and later the Queen's Scottish retreat in Balmoral – captures the distinctive blend of discretion and grandeur that characterises the British monarchy. Morgan cleverly opts to shuffle the chronology, allowing Mirren to glide between the various eras and ages of Elizabeth's life and reign.

During Cameron's audience, the elderly lady hilariously falls asleep. During Anthony Eden's in 1956, the young monarch, who had been coronated only three years earlier, is still in the robes she wore for a photo shoot with Cecil Beaton.

But it's the conversations by which this show inevitably flies or falls. And where Morgan's previous plays utterly convince when imagining the dialogue spoken by historical figures, that's not always the case here. The spiky encounter between Haydn Gwynne's angry Margaret Thatcher and the Queen, which apparently occurred after a newspaper reported the monarch's displeasure about her prime minister's policies, feels true enough. But the moaning from Paul Ritter's John Major about his unruly party, Gordon Brown's candid dislike of his predecessor (Tony Blair, not one of Morgan's chosen premiers) and the irreverent sparring conducted between Wilson and the Queen, all feel like the kind of conversation we would like them to have had rather than the ones they actually did. It's this credibility gap that so hard to shake off, even while laughing at the insecurities of Britain's elected leaders.

Where the play does work well is in revealing where the lines that prevent royal influence from becoming power are drawn. But there is no attempt to question the institution, or reveal how, despite this particular queen's instinct for social justice, the monarchy supports a tier of class privilege for which the classes below pay a heavy price. But then, so popular is the queen in Britain these days, republicanism is seen as a fringe idea best suited to foreigners.

Mirren though is both regal and likeable. So much so that even the most committed revolutionary will enjoy her company. 

 


SUBSCRIBE TO New York Theater News
SUBSCRIBE TO London Theater News

SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


Wine, Fruit, and Gourmet Gift Baskets.
Privacy Notice   |   Front Page
Copyright © TheaterNewsOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.