At The Stanley until February 26, 2017
Posted February 3, 2017
Actor Anna Galvin does a fine job of portraying Queen Elizabeth II in her adult years from her brisk, slightly bristly manner right down to her sensible shoes. Bernard Cuffling makes a toffee-nosed but soft-hearted Equerry showing off the (imagined) Gainsborough painting and Hepplewhite furniture in the Audience Room of Buckingham Palace. (It’s in that room where the Queen meets for twenty minutes every Tuesday with the current Prime Minister.) And Bianca Sanchez Galvin, making her professional debut, is a precocious, spirited young Elizabeth before she becomes Queen.
But Navi, Link, Pumpkin and Bacon – four adorable Corgis – steal the show right out from underneath all the talent on the Stanley stage. On opening night, applause immediately rang out when first one, then two and finally all four Corgis ran onto the stage looking for treats. Over her sixty-five year reign the Queen has owned thirty Pembroke Welsh Corgis, about whom she says, “My corgis are my family”. In a televised interview she once commented, referring to the corgis, “They bite, you know”. Only the Queen can get away with unapologetically admitting to owning a breed with a penchant for biting.
Response to Peter Morgan’s The Audience will depend on where one stands vis-a-vis the monarchy. The January 2017 Toronto production was soundly trashed by The Globe and Mail’s Kelly J. Nestruck who wrote, referring to Morgan, “He’s not written a comedy or drama or even history, but a hagiography.”
Arguably, that’s true. Morgan’s Elizabeth II shows few, in any, warts.
But for those who think the Queen serves a purpose, persevering through thick and thin and rising above scandal, The Audience is entertaining, even educational. The Queen has held these weekly conversations with thirteen prime ministers since her coronation in 1952. Morgan’s play gives us a brief sketch of eight of them.
For those who are caught up watching The Crown, perhaps The Audience will seem like thin gruel. Obviously the Arts Club staging is spare compared to the lavish setting of the Netflix hit. Perhaps the timing – following Morgan’s The Queen (starring Helen Mirren) and The Crown (starring Claire Foy and also written by Morgan) – leads to The Audience appearing, as The Globe critic said, “. . . a rough stage outline of The Crown.”
But I liked the play and this production.
One after the other, the various prime ministers enter, are greeted by Her Majesty, and begin their conversations. Joel Wirkkunen’s Winston Churchill gives advice to the young queen; “The duty that has befallen you is an honour”. She bridles upon recognizing the truth of her situation: “You [the prime ministers] have all the power and I have none.”
John Major, portrayed by Ted Cole, “. . . only wanted to be ordinary” and confessed he had passed only three of his O Levels to which the Queen responds she passed no examinations at all, never having been to school but always tutored at home.
David Marr reveals “the ruffian” in working class Harold Wilson while Tom McBeath, as Labour leader Gordon Brown, almost insults the Queen who responds, amused but not annoyed, to his inadvertent negative comment with, “That started off as a compliment and went somewhere else.”
From Chris Britton’s prickly Sir Anthony Eden to casual Tony Blair (Jay Hindle) and David Cameron (Hindle again), Elizabeth II makes her feelings known, proves that she does her homework and questions each of the prime ministers while fully recognizing the limitations of her status.
Of all the prime minsters, the most aggressive and the least respectful is Margaret Thatcher (Erin Ormond) who barely manages to be polite in the Queen’s presence.
Yes, The Audience is an unabashed homage to Elizabeth II. Directed by Sarah Rodgers, The Audience finds little fault with the little girl known as Bunty who became the queen at the tender age of twenty-six and has doggedly stood her ground. And, yes, Peter Morgan has been milking the monarchy for his own benefit for years.
So don’t go to The Audience if you think the Royal Family is irrelevant. Do go if you think, in changing times, having a stalwart, gracious, well-spoken, committed, dog-loving Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, is something worth having. Or just go for those Corgis.