The Audience at the Apollo
Re-staged to coincide with the general election, The Audience explores the intimate side of the relationship between crown and government, speculating on the content of the private meetings between the two most prominent public figures in Britain – the Prime Minister and the head of state.
King George VI was in the habit of meeting Winston Churchill on a weekly basis to discuss the country’s affairs, and after Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, the custom was retained. It eventually became a fixed engagement meant to keep the Queen up-to-date, out of courtesy rather than obligation. The audience takes place in Buckingham Palace in total privacy; no secretaries are present and no minutes taken. As Churchill (David Calder) explains to the Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) on their first meeting: “the sovereign listens and always agrees: there is no finer system in the world!” Nevertheless, the Queen begins to make practical adjustments to these meetings; she’s portrayed as determined to actively pursue information.
Thomas’ natural class serves her at every stage of the ageing process as the story moves back and forth in time. She switches between ages and emotional states with effortless charm and makes every gesture and silence count. The audience is treated to many delightful comic interventions in spite of the grave topics discussed, and the fine line between the Queen’s public and personal self is successfully explored.
Thomas gives an impeccable performance and that alone gives the play an edge. She unquestionably succeeds in the challenging task of filling Helen Mirren’s shoes, supported by a cast that matches her regal energy. One feels transported into the times depicted here, thanks to the actors’ changes in style, speech and the Queen’s subtle shifts in mood as notorious personal and public issues challenge her usual composure. The costume changes are so swiftly arranged that it almost seems like magic and the set, consisting of only few luxurious props, is as befittingly grandiose as it is impersonal. It is difficult to fault this play as it manages to combine humour, poignancy and fine performances from all the cast.
Two yellow chairs dominate the scene as the Prime Ministers alternate. Often agitated or concerned, they present their strikingly different ideas, personalities and ambitions. Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, sits composed, the constant calm force in every meeting. Neutral and detached, she deftly draws subtle similarities and parallels between the 12 Prime Ministers she has dealt with thus far. Allegedly, her final verdict is that they are all “complicated souls”. She’s likened to a psychiatrist who offers a sympathetic ear as they open up about their doubts and display their insecurities. The Prime Ministers’ somewhat caricatured representations provide a great deal of humour, but it becomes evident that the meetings are not a mere formality. While the Queen cannot make decisions, her opinions do carry the ultimate weight.
In short, The Audience is a highly entertaining look at this most important exchange of opinion, evidently stained by human limitations, projected onto the world at large in the shapes of dissatisfaction and unrest on a national level, or wars and conflict far beyond our bounds.
The Audience is on at Apollo Theatre until 25th July 2015, for further information or to book visit here.