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The Audience

February 15, 2013 - June 13, 2013 | The Royal National Theatre
Directed by: Stephen Daldry | Literature: Peter Morgan | Production Design: Bob Crowley
For 60 years, HRC Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) has met each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace - a private meeting like no other in British public life. Both parties have an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is said. The Audience breaks this contract of silence and imagines a series of pivotal meetings between the Downing Street incumbents and their Queen. From Churchill to Cameron, each PM has used these private conversations as a sounding board and a confessional.
Cast: Helen Mirren (Queen Elizabeth II), Michael Elwyn (Sir Anthony Eden), Haydn Gwynne (Margaret Thatcher), Richard McCabe (Harold Wilson), Nathaniel Parker (Gordon Brown), Paul Ritter (John Major), Rufus Wright (David Cameron), Edward Fox (Winston Churchill), David Peart (James Callaghan, Private Secretary), Geoffrey Beevers (Equerry), Bebe Cave, Maya Gerber, Nell Williams (Young Elizabeth), Charlotte Moore (Bobo MacDonald, Private Secretary), Harry Feltham, Matt Plumb (Junior Equerries, Footmen), Spencer Kitchen, Elaine Solomon (Queen’s Dressers), Jonathan Coote (Cecil Beaton, Detective), Ian Houghton (Detective, Policeman)

Production Notes

“The Audience” reunites writer Peter Morgan and Helen Mirren following their collaboration on the critically-acclaimed movie “The Queen”, directed by Stephen Daldry and presented in the West End by Matthew Byam Shaw for Playful Productions, Robert Fox and Andy Harries. Morgan struck box-office gold with “The Queen” and was able to repeat this success with the play, based on the private weekly audience given by the monarch to the prime minister. As the Guardian wrote in its review, “I’d say that in both cases, 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. As a dramatist, however, Morgan faces two problems. One is that no one ever knows what is said at these weekly tête-à-têtes since they are un-minuted. The other, more serious, is that in a constitutional monarchy, the Queen has no authority to contradict policy: simply, in the words of Walter Bagehot in the 19th century, “to be consulted, to advise and to warn”, which would seem to rule out dramatic conflict. I’d say that Morgan counters these problems with varying degrees of success.

I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to revisit something I’ve done, even if it was a different take on the same subject. Nonetheless, I said I would do a read-through, convinced I would say that it was great, but “Good luck, I am not doing it.” And I went, and there was Stephen Daldry, who is one of the best directors in world, Peter Morgan and Bob Crowley, who is the best set designer I know. Plus, the play is funny and interesting and strange, because it’s not told in a linear fashion. Elizabeth doesn’t grow or develop in that traditional theatrical trajectory. It is told through vignettes. But, in the end, I chose it because I wanted to be part of this extraordinary gathering of luminaries. (Helen Mirren, In New York)

In a play that zigzags back and forth over 60 years and shows eight of the 12 prime ministers the Queen has dealt with (though not Tony Blair), Morgan is obviously free to speculate about what was said. He does this entertainingly enough, showing the Queen often acting as a surrogate shrink to her harassed ministers: she offers a hanky to a tearful John Major (a very funny Paul Ritter) and counsels sleep and rest to a paranoid Gordon Brown (a highly plausible Nathaniel Parker). The production was broadcast live to cinemas as part of National Theatre Live on 13 June 2013. The initial broadcast broke the record for most people watching a production live since the scheme began, with nearly 80,000 people watching in the UK and 30,000 people in North America. Further encore screenings were later broadcast.

At the 2013 Olivier Awards, Helen Mirren received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal, while Richard McCabe received the best supporting actor nod for his role as Harold Wilson. Mirren also received best actress at the Evening Standard Awards, although the win was surrounded in controversy after it was revealed she had been tied with another actress and critic Henry Hitchings had changed his vote following his first choice being moved into a new category.

Awards and Nominations for Helen Mirren

   Evening Standard Award for Best Theatre Play – Best Actress
   Olivier Award – Best Actress

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