REVIEW: The Audience by Peter Morgan
The Stables latest production invites us to eavesdrop on the Queen’s weekly audience with seven of her Prime Ministers, over six decades. A stage empty but for one chair and a gauze backdrop which was both entry/exit and projection screen that focused attention on the characters. So all depends on the actors, representing real people and thereby risking a topple into caricature. Director Frances Viner avoided the pitfall by encouraging her cast to suggest rather than impersonate the characters.
Enter the gorgeously uniformed Rich Keeble (Equerry) setting the scene: Buckingham Palace drawing room (single, possibly Hepplewhite chair), Balmoral sitting room (tartan throw) and introducing the Prime Ministers. A small part, fleshed out with a roll of the eyes, a lifted eyebrow. Likewise, Gill Jenks (Bobo MacDonald) made the most of what she was given.
Prime Ministers come and go, the Queen endures, here in three incarnations: Janet McCarter (Mature Queen) coping convincingly with five PMs; Elizabeth Joyce (child Princess) plucky and vulnerable in jodhpurs and hacking jacket, and Emily Cooper (Young Queen), a superb performance, unsure but steely in her confrontation with a bullying Churchill, frustrated and angry when encountering Anthony Eden over Suez. Colin Mitchell’s physical presence and vocal cadences brought the aging Churchill to life, and Robert Stewart (Eden) was effective as a sick man fighting the wrong war for what he believed were the right reasons. Philip Blurton, clutching his bundle of tormenting tabloids, brilliantly captured John Major, while David Nicholles (Harold Wilson), a chippy Huddersfield lad in Act One was surprisingly moving in Act Two revealing his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Ah, Margaret Thatcher. Author Peter Morgan doesn’t like her much. Carol Hunt dodged the looming caricature trap while fully realising the Iron Lady the left so loves to hate. Chris Rose was recognisably Gordon Brown, suffering depression and nosebleed, resentful of Tony Blair and childishly hurt by a snub from the Obamas. Such are the insecurities which afflict our leaders. Well, not David Drew’s, Cameron. Oozing self confidence, totally and literally laid back in a deckchair, he bored the Queen, but not the audience, into slumber. Alas, the deckchair, in an inspired bit of direction developed a perverse mind of its own precipitating a less than dignified exit.
Direction, props, costumes, lighting and sound effects contributed to keeping the audience fully engaged, and the music established the different time frames. It all worked supremely well and we loved it.