The return of Peter Morgan's play The Audience to London now starring Kristin Scott Thomas as 'Queen Elizabeth II' and directed by Stephen Daldry.
Since she began her reign in 1952, Elizabeth II has met Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace. Over the last sixty years she has held audiences with some 12 Prime Ministers in her role as a constitutional monarchy which means that, although she does not make and pass legislation herself, she has the right to be consulted, to encourage and to warn the Government of the day.
The meetings are private with an unspoken agreement between Queen and Prime Minister never to repeat what is said. Not even to their spouses. But now, in his new play The Audience, the acclaimed playwright Peter Morgan imagines a series of pivotal meetings between the Prime Ministers and their Queen. Peter Morgan received Oscar and BAFTA nominations for his screenplay for Stephen Frears' The Queen. In addition his last play, the award-winning Frost/Nixon, received critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic before being adapted in to an Oscar nominated film of the same name.
The cast for The Audience in London for the 2015 season stars Kristin Scott Thomas as 'Queen Elizabeth II' along with with David Calder as 'Winston Churchill', Mark Dexter as 'David Cameron', Michael Gould as 'John Major', Gordon Kennedy as 'Gordon Brown', Sylvestra Le Touzel as 'Margaret Thatcher', David Robb as 'Sir Anthony Eden' and Nicholas Woodeson as 'Harold Wilson'. Casting subject to change without notice. The production is directed by Stephen Daldry with designs by Bob Crowley, lighting by Rick Fisher, sound by Paul Arditti and music by Paul Englishby. Kristin Scott Thomas' recent West End theatre credits include Ian Rickson's revivals of Sophocles' Electra (2014), Harold Pinter's Old Times (2013) and Betrayal (2011) and Jonathan Kent's revival of Luigi Pirandello's As You Desire Me (2006).
When this production opened at the Apollo Theatre in May 2015 starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Holly Williams in the Independent said "Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp, each short scene fully realised, while also ricocheting off one another with precision." Michael Billington in the Guardian thought that "Kristin Scott Thomas gives a highly accomplished performance that veers between mischievous irony and icy hauteur, but without quite convincing us of the Queen’s ability to act as a therapeutic counsellor to her disturbed premiers." John Nathan in the London Metro described how "in almost every respect Kristin Scott Thomas has the Queen down to a tee in Stephen Daldry's elegant production... Scott Thomas' fond portrait is terrific, right down to Her Majesty's opinion of those who retire early from a life of duty, such as the previous Pope, a word she says with such disdain it sounds like poop." Neil Normn in the Daily Express noted that, "stepping into the sensible shoes of Dame Helen Mirren as the Queen, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas finds them to be a reasonably comfortable fit... Directed with fastidious precision by Stephen Daldry, this is an amusing and at times touching portrait of a woman whose life has been dedicated to serving her nation." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard wrote that "while Kristin Scott Thomas feels a less obvious choice to portray the Queen, she proves an entirely credible successor... and while the play may not illuminate the intricacies of either politics or the Royal Family, it’s an entertaining, ultimately touching portrait of a woman whose life has been a strange mixture of visibility and aloofness." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph commented that, "short of crowbarring in a reference to our new-born princess, this revamped version of Peter Morgan's enthralling and royally entertaining (albeit at times too flippantly light-hearted) play about the weekly briefing meetings that take place between the Queen and her prime minister could hardly be more up-to-date.... this revival has been recast across the board but shares with the 2013 premiere (also directed by Stephen Daldry) the same pomp and fastidious style. Elegant Dame Kristin easily holds her own against the gilded memory of Dame Helen Mirren." Dominic Maxwell in the Times highlighted that "though Kristin Scott Thomas is 15 years Mirren's junior, she proves every bit as fascinating as the Queen in this top-notch revival." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail said that the "show that has matured like a vintage port and has even been given a couple of topical tweaks."
The playwright Peter Morgan says that "Each conversation doesn't just reflect on a matter of state, it may also reflect on personal matters and what it is to be a leader and what it is to need somewhere to unwind. It will be revealing about both offices and both incumbents of those offices, in personal and political matters. There are real surprises as to who she felt she could trust, who she felt close to and was most drawn to, and who she dreaded these audiences with. It's all in there. You will leave with a stronger idea about what she felt about all prime ministers, including Thatcher.”
This play was originally presented at the Gielgud Theatre when the cast featured Helen Mirren as 'Queen Elizabeth II' along with Haydn Gwynne as 'Margaret Thatcher', Paul Ritter as 'John Major', Edward Fox as 'Winston Churchill', Nathaniel Parker as 'Gordon Brown', Richard McCabe as 'Harold Wilson', Michael Elwyn as 'Anthony Eden' and Rufus Wright as 'David Cameron'. Robert Hardy was scheduled to play 'Churchill', but unfortunately cracked his ribs in a fall and Edward Fox took over the role at short notice. The production played for a sell-out season which previewed from 15 February 2013, opened on 5 March 2013 and closed on 15 June 2013.
When this production opened at the Gielgud Theatre in March 2013 starring Helen Mirren, Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph noted that, "as he showed in his screenplay for The Queen... Peter Morgan admires his monarch. And in this marvellous piece, with Helen Mirren once again giving a magnificent performance as the Queen, he penetrates at least some of her mystery, with compassion, grace, affection and humour... The Audience is often wonderfully funny but also genuinely moving... Stephen Daldry directs a pitch–perfect production, with a truly palatial design by Bob Crowley." Libby Purves in the Times explained that "you might expect satire, caricature and easy political ironies, or perhaps sentimental royalism. But this is something rarer: funny and truthful, good-hearted, spiky, full of surprises... Stephen Daldry directs with filmic economy." Simon Edge in the Daily Express thought that "ultimately, it feels too much like a lesson on the workings of a constitutional monarchy and too little like drama." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard highlighted that while "the play reunites Mirren with The Queen’s writer Peter Morgan. It is also a welcome return for director Stephen Daldry. The results are elegant and sometimes very funny... But for all the good looks and neatness of Daldry’s staging, it’s hard not to feel that the play could be more dynamic. It resembles a set of sketches, albeit with strong thematic links. Still, they add up to an absorbing whole." Paul Taylor in the Independent praised it as being "hugely enjoyable and cumulatively very affecting... thanks to the thematically piercing idea of presenting the encounters non-chronologically - a format which is expressed with a haunting, magical malleability by Stephen Daldry's superlative production," adding that "Helen Mirren's humorous and profoundly human portrayal of a woman who is about as touchy-feely as she is Roman Catholic - although required to be, by turns, sounding-board, confessor and therapist - is magnificent... a right-royal night out." Michael Billington in the Guardian commented that "PM owes a great deal to HM: in other words, Helen Mirren, who once again gives a faultless performance that transcends mere impersonation to endow the monarch with a sense of inner life and a quasi-Shakespearean aura of solitude... But Mirren also captures the Queen's mix of the extraordinary and the ordinary." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times said that "to be sure, Helen Mirren is excellent...She (and Peter Morgan's script) catches well what we think we know of the dry royal humour, often gently withering but never malicious." In the London Metro Claire Allfree thought that "much of Stephen Daldry’s slick production turns on the gap between the private and public selves, and the extraordinary existential prison of the modern British monarchy, in which she is compelled to always perform but rarely simply be," adding that "this is a humane portrait of a woman who understands fully the absurdity of her position - head of a symbolically powerful institution that has very little real power at all." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail described Helen Mirren as giving "such a complete performance that, come the curtain call, the strong applause may be as much for E. Windsor as H. Mirren."
"The Audience is a Royal treat. Playwright Peter Morgan snoops speculatively on the private weekly meeting between the Prime Minister and the Queen. The result is a series of sketches of variable quality that are never truly dramatic, but which build into a penetrating and appreciative portrait of our sovereign... Stephen Daldry’s immensely entertaining production has all his characteristic flair and precision – and real corgis to boot... Perhaps the Queen does indeed possess the rapier wit, the wicked sense of irony and flawless comic timing that Morgan and Mirren have endowed her with. Does she really hate Buckingham Palace? We shall never know but specuation has seldom been more fun." The Mail on Sunday 2013
"Peter Morgan's sure-fire hit The Audience imaginatively reconstructs the private weekly encounters between the Queen and her prime ministers over 60 years... As a constitutional monarch, naturally Her Majesty doesn't express opinions, argue or try to influence policy: but then where is the drama? Morgan's solution is to portray the audiences as confessionals, emotional outpourings as much as political meetings. Which may seem implausible, except James Callaghan likened his weekly visits to sessions with a psychiatrist. Morgan eschews chronological order, quite rightly, and looks instead for parallels and echoes... Helen Mirren is pitch-perfect as the Queen... Mirren beautifully captures the humour, the shrewdness, the kindness, as well as the melancholy burden and solitude of a life of public duty. She is a wife and mother, but also a symbol — 'a postage stamp with a pulse', she observes drily... It's a highly enjoyable piece, with beautiful set designs by Bob Crowley... There are children and animals, too, with Nell Williams wonderful as the 11-year-old princess and a couple of very live corgis, not encouraged to linger on stage too long." The Sunday Times 2013
"The play about the weekly audiences that the Queen grants to her prime ministers amounts to an ideological tract masquerading as drama. It is in many respects a most disgraceful piece of theatre. Although the playwright just about stops short of attributing political views to the monarch, he makes it pretty clear that Wilson was her favourite... Morgan's monarch just doesn't like Tories. There is no obvious chemistry between her and Edward Fox as Churchill... Paul Ritter's John Major is an insensitive automaton... Her Majesty, meanwhile, falls asleep as Rufus Wright's smarmy David Cameron briefs her. Morgan's lowest blows are, predictably, reserved for Margaret Thatcher... How much more drama, if less political pointscoring, Morgan could have got out of showing Thatcher briefing the Queen at the height of the Falklands conflict. Instead, he bases their audience on what now seems like a rather trivial episode - how a Sunday newspaper once ran a front-page story speculating that the Queen considered Thatcher to be uncaring.... As Her Majesty, Mirren dons a succession of wigs to mark the passage of time, but manages only two looks: affectionate amusement and lofty disdain - for, as if I really need to add, her Labour and Conservative prime ministers, respectively. If you remove the politics, does this make for an entertaining night out? For diehard Labour supporters, this is a five-star production. For everyone else, it will prove one fifth of that." The Sunday Telegraph 2013
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952 the Conservative MP Winston Churchill was Prime Minister. Although suffering from dyslexia, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his published works. Poor health forced Churchill to resign in 1955, making way for his Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, Anthony Eden. As Prime Minister, Anthony Eden is best known for his controversial handling of the Suez crisis in 1956 which ultimately proved to be his downfall, forcing him to resigned in January 1957. Taking over as Prime Minister for the next seven years was the Conservative MP Harold Macmillan. A champion of economic planning, living standards and prosperity in Britain increased, leading to Macmillan famously claiming that the British public had "never had it so good" and giving him his nickname 'Supermac'. In addition he endeavoured to sped up the process of decolonisation, distanced the UK from Apartheid in South Africa and was heavily involved in negotiating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. But by 1962 the Government under pressure leading to Macmillan, by now being portrayed as an old man out of touch with the modern world, sacking one-third of his Cabinet in one go on Friday 13 July 1962 - but this did little to rejuvenate the Government and, after a series of scandals, the most damaging and infamous of which was the Profumo Affair involving the minister John Profumo, combined with his own faltering health due to a prostate condition, lead Macmillan to suddenly resign in October 1963. Conservative MP Alec Douglas-Home took over as Prime Minister for 363 days - the second shortest premiership in the 20th century – before the General Election held on 15 October 1964 saw the Labour Party, under the leadership of Harold Wilson, win a four-seat majority.
As Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970, the Labour MP Harold Wilson set out to modernise Britain during the 'swinging sixties'. This saw his Government supporting legislation to liberalise laws on stage censorship, homosexuality, divorce and abortion while the 'Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965' suspended the death penalty in England, Wales and Scotland. It was also under Harold Wilson's Labour government that the Open University was created. The 1970 general election was won by the Conservatives under the leadership of Edward (Ted) Heath who became Prime Minister. The 1970s where marked by much industrial unrest and economic decline. Ted Heath's government oversaw the introduction of the controversial 'Industrial Relations Act 1971'. Following negotiations lead by Edward Heath, the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC - now European Union, EU) on 1 January 1973. Strikes by the miners in the early 70s lead to power cuts and the introduction in January 1974 of the 'Three-Day Week', when commercial users of electricity were limited to three consecutive days' use. The General Election in the February 1974 left a 'hung government' with no one party in overall control - the Labour MP Harold Wilson formed a 'minority government', becoming Prime Minister for the second time. A second General Election was held in October 1974 which saw Labour gain a majority of three seats.
In June 1975, Harold Wilson oversaw a referendum about the EEC, when the British public endorsed the UK's continued membership of the EEC. During his second term as Prime Minister, Harold Wilson focused primarily on domestic policy. In March 1976, five days after his 60th birthday, Wilson stunned the nation when he announced his intention to resign - he claimed that he had always planned on resigning at the age of 60, and that he was physically and mentally exhausted. James Callaghan, who was popular across all parts of the Labour Party, won the leadership election following Harold Wilson's resignation, and thus became Prime Minister. But his time as Prime Minister was dominated by the troubles in running a Government with a minority in the House of Commons which lead to his having to make deals with other minor parties to survive, including the 'Lib-Lab Pact', an agreement between the Labour and Liberal parties. Industrial unrest continued during this time, leading to the winter of 1978/79 which became known at 'The Winter of Discontent' which was marked by a succession of strikes. In March 1979, the House of Commons passed a Motion of No Confidence by just one vote which forced James Callaghan to call a General Election that was held on 3 May 1979.
The 1979 General Election was won by the Conservatives under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher who became the first female British Prime Minister, and the longest serving for over 150 years. In 1990 Michael Heseltine challenged Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative party - although he failed to win, he got a significant minority of votes and Margaret Thatcher pulled out of the leadership race, which was then won by John Major, who also then became the Prime Minister. The Labour party won the 1997 General Election by a landslide and the Labour MP Tony Blair become Prime Minister for the next ten years until he resigned in June 1997 when Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister. The General Election in 2010 returned a 'hung government' with the Conservative and Liberal parties forming a 'coalition government' with the Conservative MP David Cameron becoming Prime Minister.
The Audience in London at the Apollo Theatre with previewed from 21 April 2015, opened on 5 May 2015 and closed on 25 July 2015.