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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Apollo Theatre


  Kristin Scott Thomas and David Calder/ Ph: Johan Persson

When it premiered in London two years ago, Peter Morgan's play amounted to not much more than a well-crafted love letter to the British establishment. True, it had at the core of Stephen Daldry's production a stand-out performance by Helen Mirren as the Queen, who has just won a Tony Award for her performance in the New York transfer. But the play always needed some political edge, and Morgan here goes some way to redressing the imbalance.

Right from the start, Mirren's casting made perfect sense following Morgan's movie The Queen, in which Mirren played the title role. She won an Oscar for that one. It was almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role of Elizabeth II. But even before Mirren cornered the market as the current British monarch, few would have predicted that Daldry would see in the delicately boned Kristin Scott Thomas the perfect actor to step into Mirren's – and the Queen's – shoes.

The star of French- and English-speaking cinema – who has latterly carved an impressive stage career – is perhaps the least Queen-looking person on the planet. The deep-set eyes that mesmerized in such films as The English Patient, or the shockingly haunted visage that defined her recent title-role appearance in Electra at Kevin Spacey's Old Vic, are about as far from the Queen's doughy features as it is possible to imagine. And yet rather Queen-like she is. 

Queen-like in this context is not to be confused with regal, a quality that Scott Thomas is as capable of as anyone else. Queen-like here means like the Queen. Which is to say, the way she stands – with legs so straight and far apart that you wonder whether it is possible for them to belong to the same body – and the way she looks – the thousand-yard stare that descends when unamused by whomever is receiving an audience.

In Morgan's play, all the visitors are the Queen's Prime Ministers. Most of the 12 premiers that have been in office since her coronation in 1953 – from Churchill to Cameron – make an appearance here. The play is inspired by the weekly prime ministerial visits to Buckingham Palace that keep the Queen abreast of matters of state. Or at least that is the supposed reason for the visits. However, the well-informed Morgan portrays them more as therapy sessions during which the Queen serves as confidant and wise counsellor to whichever Prime Minister happens to be in crisis.

A diminished Churchill (David Calder) attempts to cling to power in his second post-war term in government. John Major (Michael Gould) is a nervous wreck because of anti-European rebels in his own party. And Gordon Brown (a hang-dog Gordon Kennedy) is practically apoplectic after being snubbed by Obama. All these anxieties are becalmed by a Queen who, as Morgan's portrait reminds us, is conditioned from childhood to take the long view. Flashbacks depict the princess resentfully adjusting to a life of duty. Privilege is less conspicuous here.

What Scott Thomas lacks in physical resemblance she makes up for in mannerism, gait, even the jut of her jaw. The voice, a pinched posh that only the Queen speaks, is spot on too.

Since that premiere, Morgan has added a Prime Minister. This version includes a visit from Tony Blair with news that Britain is about to join the invasion of Iraq. The moment echoes starkly with Anthony Eden's visit of 1956 (the costume and period changes are magically smooth), informing a doubtful Queen that Britain is abut to go to war over the Suez.

It adds much needed political currency to the play. But it is still much more fond portrait than probing enquiry into whether a modern democracy should even have a royal family.


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