Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.
A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.
65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.
Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.
The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.
Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.
The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.” By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.
See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here