Reviews

Kinky Boots – Adelphi Theatre, September 2015

KINKY BOOTS has an interesting and unusual history. Taken from the true story of a shoe factory in Northampton whose failing business was saved, if temporarily, by moving from making men’s brogues into producing kinky boots for drag queens, it became first the subject of a BBC2 documentary and then a film, and finally a Broadway Tony-award-winning musical that has eventually reached the West End.

(kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk)

(kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk)

The producers of the film created the character of Lola, the drag queen, played by Chiwetel EJiofor (now that’s a film I have to see) and it is he/she and the reluctant inheritor of the shoe factory, Charlie, who form the central characters of the musical. The show makes much of their differences – the provincial down-to-earthness of Charlie versus the exotic otherness of Lola – before making great play of their similarities (they both disappointed and defied their fathers). It is this man-to-man-with-no-sex-involved relationship that’s one of the most unusual things about this show. There’s conventional love interest along the way in the form of Charlie’s fiancée, a London-oriented businesswoman who is replaced by the assistant with a crush – a gloriously funny performance from Amy Lennox. Charlie is played by Killian Donnelly, veteran of virtually every musical running in the West End, and Lola by Matt Henry, whose sole experience as far as I can tell from Googling him – being too mean to buy a programme – is coming fourth on The Voice.

officiallondontheatre.co.uk

Killian Connelly, Matt Henry and Amy Lennox (officiallondontheatre.co.uk)

The show is saved by these performances, and by a wonderfully witty script. The weirdness of its hybrid origins – an American-created show about a story set in the English provinces – is evident here and there, and in particular in the character of Charlie, who turns from unassuming Northamptonshire when he speaks into American rock star when he sings. There’s also an American sassiness, not to mention schmaltz, to the script (Harvey Fierstein). There are some creaking plot moments, in particular when Charlie quite uncharacteristically turns on his buddy Lola solely, it seems, to provide us with the subsequent regret-and-making-up moment; and Charlie’s fiancée doesn’t serve much of a purpose (except to give Amy Lennox a wonderfully comedic moment when she realises has a crush on someone else’s man). And there are a couple of puke-making songs which are both unnecessary and out of keeping with the otherwise light-hearted, hilarious and outrageous tone of the rest of the show.

But these days, when the news around us is so grim, there’s nothing like a fun night out to cheer the spirits. The audience was on its feet at the end and I suspect this one will run and run as long and as far as its steel-reinforced stilettos can carry it.

(standard.co.uk)

(standard.co.uk)

 #####

 Our Country’s Good – National Theatre, August 2015

In 1789, barely a year after the First Fleet of convicts and marines arrived in New South Wales, the governor, Arthur Phillip – who was a remarkable and unusual man – made the remarkable and unusual suggestion that the convicts stage a play. The chosen piece was ‘The Recruiting Officer’ by George Farquhar, and the chosen playmaster was a junior officer called Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark.

National Theatre programme

National Theatre programme

Out of this unusual and remarkable story the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker crafted a funny and moving play called Our Country’s Good, adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker and first produced at the Royal Court Theatre back in 1988. Now the National Theatre is giving the play a welcome revival, but maybe it was the vastness of the Olivier stage that dissipated much of the intimacy of the relationships at the heart of the play, or the slow pace of the action (it was a second preview), but somehow the joyful, redemptive play that I remember from all those years ago was not as moving or as funny as I was expecting.

The director has made the unusual decision to cast Afro-Caribbean actors in the roles of Governor Phillip and the witty and elegant Watkin Tench. I am all for colour-blind casting but since this is partly a story of the colonisation of a black country by a white one, in this instance it is just confusing. The aboriginal community is represented by one actor (one more than in the BBC TV series ‘Banished’), who observes, and dances, and eventually speaks his thoughts (in cultured English, another jarring note).

Governor Phillip (wikipedia)

Governor Phillip (wikipedia)

But all power to the actors, and in particular to Jason Hughes (Midsommer Murders) who manages to turn the uptight, slightly humourless Ralph Clark into a warm and interesting human being; and to Lee Ross, who takes on the role of the ‘thespian’ Sideway and makes him both hilarious and totally believable. The music is an unusual (and remarkable) mix of gospel, slave-song and guitar, with just the right mix of didgeridoo – previously recorded in Australia I believe.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(wikipedia)

(wikipedia)

In preparation for seeing the play I have been re-reading Keneally’s book. He calls it a novel, but more surprisingly he states that ‘All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental’. However virtually all his characters, from the governor and his bad-tempered deputy Major Robbie Ross to the convicts Robert Sideway and Mary Brennan – who Clark casts in his play and with whom he later had a child – were not only real people but are represented by Keneally pretty accurately.

In his Author’s Note Keneally acknowledges ‘… that in making this fiction he found rich material in such works as ‘The Journal and Letters of Lt Ralph Clark … and David Collins’s An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales’. Out of idle curiosity I glanced through both of these to find that while Clark kept intimate diaries of some of his early years in the colony the relevant period in 1789 is missing. And all Collins has to say about it was: ‘The anniversary of his Majesty’s birth-day … was observed with every distinction in our power; … the detachment of marines fired three vollies, which were followed by twenty-one guns from each of the ships of war in the cove … and in the evening some of the convicts were permitted to perform Farquhar’s comedy of the Recruiting Officer, in a hut fitted up for the occasion. They professed no higher aim than “humbly to excite a smile,” and their efforts to please were not unattended with applause.’[1]

So all power to Thomas Keneally and to Timberlake Wertenbaker for drawing to our attention such a remarkable (and unusual) event in the earliest days of the colony. And to the National Theatre for transporting us temporarily to that remarkable and much-ignored (in this country) continent.

Finally – a note to the programme compilers: Norfolk Island is not off the coast of Tasmania.

[1] An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Chapter VII. http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit/pdf/colacc1.pdf

 #####

The One Day of the Year – Finborough Theatre, May 2015

The One Day of the Year (defribillatortheatre.com)

The One Day of the Year (finboroughtheatre.co.uk)

There’s only one thing wrong with the Finborough Theatre’s current production of Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year: the theatre it’s in is too small.

I don’t mean the production doesn’t fit the space, or that the theatre is uncomfortable, rather that this classic Australian play needs a far bigger audience. In fact I believe this very production should be on the stage of the National Theatre.

Fiona Press and Mark Little (defbrillatortheatre.com)

Fiona Press and Mark Little (defbrillatortheatre.com)

The One Day of the Year is possibly Australia’s best play, or certainly its best-known. So I was quite shocked to see it hasn’t been produced in London since 1961, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Is this yet another sign of the UK’s indifference to all things Australian?

The themes of the story are still current: Anzac Day in Australia is a big event. This year, being the 100th anniversary, was even bigger. I was in Australia at the time and the coverage was so intense that come the Day itself, rather like young Hughie in One Day, I felt I had had enough. Of course there are no Anzac diggers any more and very few  surviving veterans of WW2, but the event itself still sparks controversy: there are still people who believe, from the critics of the Tower of London poppies to the anti-Anzacs in Oz, that any commemoration of war is a glorification.

This is the central theme of Alan Seymour’s play. Alf is a WW2 veteran whose life since the war has been disappointing. Anzac Day is the lighlight of his year and gives him the excuse to attend the dawn parade before getting blind drunk on the streets of Sydney with his mates. Son Hughie, who is at university, is appalled, not just at his father’s drunkenness but at the public ‘celebration’ of what was one of the biggest disasters of WW1.

The Finborough production is riveting: the performances – Mark Little as Alf, James William Wright as Hughie, Paul Haley as Gallipolli veteran Wacka, Adele Querol as Joe’s posh girlfriend Jan and, in particular, Fiona Press as Alf’s wife and backbone of the family, Dot, are superb. It’s hard to imagine a better production all round.

Australia’s Arthur Miller

Alan Seymour (guardian.com)

Alan Seymour (guardian.com)

Alan Seymour, who died in March of this year, is known really only for this one play, his first. He takes no sides in his own argument, which is what makes his play so powerful. It reminded me many times as I was watching it last night of Arthur Miller – in particular his Death of a Salesman (disappointed father, stoic, loving, long-suffering wife) and All My Sons (flawed father, disillusioned sons, generational conflict). Like Miller, The One Day caused controversy at its Australian opening for daring to criticise elements of his own country. Like Miller, Seymour tells his story through flesh-and-blood characters, all of them flawed in one way or another, each of them demanding our sympathy.

I met Alan when he was working at the BBC here in London. He was tremendously helpful and encouraging when I was trying to become a TV scriptwriter. After he moved back to Australia I visited him whenever I was there at his beautiful Darlinghurst flat in Sydney. He was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known, and one of the most self-deprecating. He once described his play as an ‘albatross’, but I think he’d have been very proud and delighted at this latest revival of it.

He would have been even prouder to see it on stage at the National Theatre, where it should be.

 #######

Oh What a Lovely War Theatre Royal, Stratford East, February 2014

When I heard that the Theatre Royal in Stratford East was reviving the iconic show that premiered in that same theatre back in 1963 I had to buy a ticket right away, and that was over a year ago. I didn’t see the original production, so the opportunity to be able to sit in the same seats watching the same show folk were first watching fifty years ago was irresistible. My expectations were sky-high, and I was not disappointed.

Oh What a Lovely War is the First World War done as an end-of-the-pier pierrot show. This means bawdy humour, national stereotypes, goosing and bad jokes, most of which we probably wouldn’t be able to get away with now. But all this is counterpointed by a banner stretched across the back wall filling us in with the progress of the war. So for instance while we’re watching characters dancing to the Twelfth Street Rag we are being told ‘November …Somme battle ends …Total loss 1,332,000 men … Gain nil’. So a bit of you is laughing your socks off and then suddenly being caught up short, which means your emotions are being put through such a wringer that at one point – especially towards the end of the first act when the Jerries and the Tommies sing carols and started chucking Christmas presents at one another – it becomes almost unbearable. I can’t remember when I last felt quite so emotionally battered in the theatre.

There have been complaints, from Michael Gove in particular (our education secretary, for overseas readers) that shows like Oh What a Lovely War and Blackadder present a distorted view of the war and undermine our soldiers’ bravery and heroism. It seems to me he is completely missing the point. The show goes nowhere towards glorifying war, quite the opposite, but nor does it neglect the fact that ordinary soldiers were anything other than astonishingly brave and remarkably heroic. However rather than presenting them as gung-ho heroes waving flags and singing patriotic songs we see a bunch of exhausted, muddy, disheartened and often badly wounded lads desperately trying to keep their spirits up by singing a bawdy song, knowing the next push will probably be their last. There is one scene where a bunch of French soldiers, resisting orders to advance as ‘lambs to the slaughter’, eventually do so and ‘baaa’ like sheep while being gunned down one by one.

As a chronical of war it may not be to an academic’s taste, and obviously not to an Education Secretary’s, but as a piece of theatre it is everything theatre should be. The ensemble cast is faultless. Joan Littlewood would have been proud.

Directed with great panache by Terry Johnson, it features among others Caroline Quentin – surprisingly good, I’ve never seen her on stage before – Saun Prendergast as a hilariously incomprehensible drill sergeant and Ian Bartholomew (last seen by me as a panto dame) as General Haig. Fabulous. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

It runs until 15 March at the Theatre Royal.

########

 The Mistress Contract – Royal Court Theatre, February 2014

The mistress’ contract is a great idea. She gets to live in a house with a swimming pool, rent free, in return for sexual favours granted to him any time except when she’s travelling or ill. What they get up to at other times is their own private business. The contract obviously works because it has lasted over thirty years and it still continues even though She is 88 and He 93.

The play isn’t quite so successful. There’s an awful lot of talk, and most of it isn’t that interesting. Sexual  and gender politics, sex, feminism, what her kids are up to etc., some of which they tape for possible publication, but nothing about what’s going on in the world outside the plate-glass house she lives in and he visits, which appears to be in the middle of the desert yet by the sea somewhere on the west coast of the USA not far from LA (so I assume).

The problem is it is hard to engage with either character. She, the naturally beautiful and extremely talented Saskia Reeves, has worked strangely hard to make herself unattractive, with her specs, lank hair and drab clothes. Moreover she’s a windbag, which is a problem for the audience if not for him. There is one heart-stopping moment when, having been told by her that She has been propositioned by a younger man, He cries – I don’t want you to fuck anyone else and I don’t want to fuck anyone else! – which is really the first sign of a genuine and actually rather conventional emotion: jealousy. Unwittingly or otherwise this rather undermines the play’s theme of non-commitment but it’s a one-off moment and though it ends in an embrace – a rare moment of physical contact – it doesn’t really lead anywhere.

I almost (but not quite) longed to see the two of them getting their gear off and getting down to it rather than talking about it (they don’t). Calling the characters He and She and setting the play in an unknown place doesn’t help. Significantly when they are preparing their book she refuses to allow him to mention her mastectomy because it’s too personal, and she wants to be seen as Everywoman.

The Mistress Contract, based on the true and eventually published story (by He and She) and dramatised by Abi Morgan, touches on fascinating stuff but in such a bone-dry manner it’s difficult to feel truly involved. I was reminded partly of The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion’s account of the year her husband died and her daughter simultaneously contracted a serious illness. Two potentially dramatic emotions, death and sex, intellectualised till there’s very little life left in them.

But the idea is something else, definitely worth thinking about. I wouldn’t half mind living in the desert by the sea with a swimming pool in return for … A high price to pay? Maybe, maybe not. All enquiries please send to Box No 2038698.

######

Candide – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford on Avon, August 2013

When I first read Voltaire’s Candide – as part of an Open University module I was studying about the Enlightenment – I took it at face value. As a pessimist I rather envied people who could genuinely believe that no matter how many disasters you experience as you stumble through life that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’, and that personal suffering is worth it if it is for the public good. When I eventually realised the book was intended as a satire mocking the then popular philosophical theory that an all-powerful, benevolent God must have a positive reason for, for instance, disasters such as the deaths of 100,000 people in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 I was still a tad puzzled.

But then reading about Mark Ravenhill’s thoughts on updating this play I thought they made real sense. There cannot be a generation in history that hasn’t said ‘why would anyone want to bring a child into a world that’s obviously going to the dogs?’. And I suppose each one of them has had a point, if you look hard enough.

But now look at us: climate change and world overpopulation, and what are we doing about it? (says Ravenhill) ‘Oh, it’ll sort itself out’ seems to be a common response. In an increasingly secular society we can’t – or don’t – blame God any more so that just leaves us. And what are we doing about us?This is I think is the prevailing thought behind Ravenhill’s version of Candide at the RSC at Stratford, currently running at the Swan Theatre until October 26. We begin with Voltaire’s original reconstructed as a play based on Candide’s actual words and witnessed by Candide himself. Then whizz bang and we’re into the 21st century and an 18th birthday party where everything from the guests’ clothes to the cake itself is black, and where the subject of the party, who seems to have retreated into her own wordless world, suddenly finds her voice and bumps off every member of her family (except her mother) before shooting herself, because she believes their generation are responsible for climate disaster and overpopulation. Then into a film producer’s office where the girl’s mother, who’s written a book about her experiences, is discussing a film adaptation, aided – or distracted – by a ‘narrative therapist’ (‘Pause: reflect: what does this person want from me?’). Next we’re into the future where Candide’s 18th century mentor Pangloss is reincarnated as a scientist who has discovered how to eliminate the pessimism gene so we can all go on thinking ‘all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds’. Oh, and along the way Candide experiences El Dorado, where the folk live in peace and harmony and have no interest in the gold that lives in the rocks around them. (And from where Candide, desperate to flee from this idealistic, dull place, takes off into the skies on the back of a farting sheep.)

Phew. Any conclusion to be drawn from all this chaos and incoherence? I don’t think so. I don’t think that was Mark Ravenhill’s intention. Some of the scenes are quite crassly written: the 18-year-old spouting pious cliches about climate change, the likewise cliche film producer looking for ‘the truth’ (so long as it’s redemptive). But as each scene rolled by I began to realise this is precisely the playwright’s point: that is what we have become – cliches who go on about things but really do nothing about them (who complain about climate change from the comfort of their cars for instance), who insist on happy endings while knowing life is not like that – precisely perhaps because it is not like that.

So I ended up thinking this play was in its own way magnificent: not setting out to find answers (no playwright should do that), or even to ask a coherent question. Certainly not mocking Voltaire, or Candide himself. Rather showing us how the pursuit of happiness appears to be part of the human condition; that the genetic-engineering scientist of the future is just another version of the optimistic, God-fearing philosopher of the 18th century; that so long as we think we are looking for happy endings there will always be philosophers, scientists and film producers to pander to us as we walk without direction into the future, too busy talking to really notice where we are going.

All this is very cleverly and deftly staged by the director Lindsey Turner and beautifully played by a talented cast including Ian Redford as Pangloss, Matthew Needham as Candide, Ishia Bennison, doubling as a lusty Countess and an earnest (and hilarious) ‘narrative therapist’ and the still stunningly beautiful Susan Engel as a 400-hundred-year-old Cunegonde.

*Mark Ravenhill

######

Henry VI part 3 – Globe Theatre, July 2013

Poor Henry. He so did not want to be king, yet his reign was dominated by a virtually continuous series of wars between other rivals who did, and his own people who thought that he should.

I had to gen up on my history for this one. I’ve never seen any part of Henry VI before and couldn’t help but wonder why Shakespeare chose to wrote no fewer than three plays about one of Britain’s most unremarkable monarchs. Henry was the unwitting product of a slightly dodgy coup, going back to the days of Edward III’s grandson Richard II, who was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke – not his rightful heir – who went on to become Henry IV (parts one and two). Henry V won battles with France but all his gains were lost during the reign of his son Henry VI, and so set off the battles between the Houses of Lancaster and York that came to be known as the Wars of the Roses.

At the Globe they are presenting all three parts of Henry VI, sometimes on the same day. It’s a tough, physical production and there’s a lot of sweaty fighting and sword clashing. Difficult to make this interesting but helped by some powerful performances, in particular by Brendan O’Hea doubling as the ultra macho Richard Duke of York and the super camp King Lewis of France, Mary Doherty as Henry’s ferocious wife, the doughty Queen Margaret (rather oddly wearing breeches, perhaps because she’s required to do so much sword-fighting), Simon Harrison as Richard Duke of Gloucester, aka Richard III, and especially Graham Butler as the bothered and bewildered Henry. There is some slightly confusing casting: the same actor plays Henry’s son Prince Edward in one scene and almost immediately after young Rutland of York, who gets hacked to death, only to crop up a couple of scenes later alive and well and still the heir to the throne.

If this play has to be done then it could not be done a lot better. And it’s good that the Globe is sticking its neck out with this triology (also to be seen at the scenes of the original battles).

######

A Season in the Congo – Young Vic, July 2013

Until a week ago the name Patrice Lumumba was only vaguely familiar, but if he’d cropped up in a pub quiz I wouldn’t have been able to answer any questions or place him in any kind of context. I now know that he was a Congolese beer salesman who was voted in as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first post colonial Prime Minister in June of 1960, and by January of the following year he was dead: by firing squad (according to the play), shot and dissolved in acid by the CIA, according to the programme notes.

The Young Vic is an astonishing space: it’s like visiting a whole new theatre with each new production. For this one it seems even bigger than ever before. The stage occupies three levels and part of the audience sits in a kind of pit – like a drained swimming pool as someone described it – surrounding it on two sides.

Everyone has sung the praises of the remarkable Chiwetel Ejiofor and I really have nothing much to add. It is a masterly performance and all the more so I think because of the actor’s own take on his character who – according to one interview I read – he didn’t think was quite the hero the playwright, Aime Cesaire, claimed he was. In Ejiofor’s performance he is charming, physical, dynamic, vain and totally unable to compromise: hence his demise.

The cast is entirely black, and when playing white characters don white snouts. I wasn’t sure about this before I saw the show, as I had doubts about the fact that the outside forces – the US and the USSR – are represented by animals’ heads and inernational bankers by a cluster of grotesque puppet figures spouting verse. Not exactly subtle, I thought. But as one my students pointed out this is how the Congolese people saw these outsiders: puppet masters portrayed by puppets. Nice. And it makes sense in a remarkably clever way.

Wonderfully staged by director Joe Wright (with puppetry by his sister Sarah), astonishing choreography (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui), marvellous music (Kabongo Tshisensa and Kaspy N’Dia) , and a great set (Lizzie Clachan). A fascinating tale of post colonial chaos. See it. 

######

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, July 2013

The critics by and large didn’t like this show and compared it unfavourably with Matilda. I didn’t really go for Matilda so I was predisposed to like Charlie, but having seen both shows now I find myself wondering whether there is a way to transform Dahl’s stories into musicals without turning his quirky characters into pantomime cliches.

Technically Charlie is amazing. I am not an expert but I suspect there are elements of the staging that break totally new ground. And here I think is part of the problem: money and technical ingenuity don’t necessarily equal magic. For all its lavishness and extravagance and technical wizardry there is something deeply old-fashioned about this show that I found disheartening. The book was written in the sixties but the feeling of the show is more fifties, despite random references to computers. The four ghastly kids are crass cliches – the fat boy from Bavaria who yodels, the streetwise kid from California who has an entourage, the prima donna ballet dancer and the breakdancing TV addict – oh dear, maybe I was completely missing the point but I found it all rather embarrassing.

However: there is a glorious central performance from the miraculous Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka. Dressed as a ringmaster, with top hat and purple tails, he conducts proceedings (literally at one point) with a flourish and a smirk that manage to convey just the right amount of Machiavellian relish and sinister playfulness. He is not hugely helped by a script and lyrics that confuse rather than intrigue (as in the song Strike that! Reverse it!, in which familiar phrases are transposed, such as ‘It must be believed to be seen’ – a nice concept that is never really realised).

The kids are great of course, as we would expect these days. But I found myself longing for the wit and freshness, and the relative simplicity, of a show like Billy Elliot. For all its technical innovation and clever puppetry (the Oompah Loompahs are quite something) Charlie by comparison feels stale and unimaginative. I’d say it’s unlikely to run as long as Billy but then the kids in the audience at the Theatre Royal were screaming with delight, so what do I know?

Talking of chocolate …

######

Merrily We Roll AlongHarold Pinter Theatre, August 2013

… is not about chocolate but is a transfer from the Menier Chocolate Factory (now a fringe theatre), where it was packed out. While I’m not a huge Stephen Sondheim fan – his music is a bit too intellectually detached for me and I don’t always find his super-sophisticated characters easy to engage with; with the notable exception of Assassins, one of the best musicals ever, with stupendous, un-Sondheim-like music – I was knocked out by Merrily. It’s beautifully realised, directed (by musical star Maria Friedman, who once played the character of Jane) and performed by a group of young actors, none of whom I was familiar with. I saw a different production of this show some years ago and didn’t like it all. I found the reverse chronology, where we watch a group of cynical, world-weary and bickering friends go backwards in time to their younger, more idealistic selves, a cliche. Life is not like that, surely. Is it? Well maybe it’s because I’ve become a bit more cynical and world-weary myself or maybe it was this particular production that made it so hard not to enjoy, but enjoy it I truly did.

Merrily We Roll Along – based on the play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart, and with a book by George Furth – was not popular in the US when it first opened in 1981. (It ran for 52 previews and 19 performances on Broadway, according to Wikipedia). Sondheim is a bit of an acquired taste and despite the fact that there’s rarely a time when he doesn’t have a presence in the West End I’m not sure whether any of his shows have made money there (though I stand to be corrected); although they do win awards – the Donmar production of Merrily won three Olivier awards in 2000, for instance.

The three central performances (see above) are wonderful, even if at least one/all of them are far too young to be mistaken for forty-year-olds. It’s running at the Harold Pinter theatre until 27 July and is well worth a visit.

######

The Audience – Gielgud Theatre, June 2013

She is a stoic and a good listener. She has a quiet and ironic sense of humour and a superhuman sense of duty. She thinks nothing of picnicking in Balmoral in freezing temperatures and her favourite Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. Winston Churchill refused to sit down when he was with her and John Major, Britain’s most reluctant Prime Minister, treated her as his psychotherapist. She is a humanitarian who counts among her friends many of the leaders of African nations and she would give anything in the world for privacy and the privilege of being allowed to be an Ordinary Person.

This of course is Peter Morgan’s version of our head of state and Queen, Helen Mirren – sorry, Queen Elizabeth the Second. His play The Audience probably tells us more about our reigning monarch than we’ll ever learn about the enigmatic Real Thing, and in a manner that is sympathetic to the point of idolisation. A humanitarian, who treats her Prime Ministers with equal respect no matter what party they represent; who is up to speed on current events yet has a profound knowledge and sense of history; who acknowledges that – unlike Queen Beatrice or the Pope – duty dictates that she will never retire or abdicate.

The Queen hasn’t seen the play apparently, but she should. And now that National Theatre Live has filmed it she could, in the privacy of Buckingham Palace perhaps, which she dislikes (according to Peter Morgan). If she’s anything like this portrayal of her she’d be tickled pink.

The play owes almost everything to Helen Mirren of course, in fact you could say that Dame Helen ‘owns’ the Queen, and while other actresses have portrayed her in the past – Prunella Scales comes to mind – nobody personifies her more solidly than HM. Long may they both reign.

Alongside HM is a cracking cast – in particular Richard McCabe as a (rather more personable than the real thing) Harold Wilson and an unrecognisable Paul Ritter (in wig) as John Major. There is a ‘magical’ costume change where HM is transformed from her 60s to her 20s in full view of the audience. Everything, from the costumes to HM’s astonishing ability to age and de-age and change shape in seconds, is immaculate.

Tonight (June 15) is the play’s last night at the Gielgud Theatre. But now that the miraculous NT Live has recorded it, generations to come will have the unique opportunity to view one of the great performances of our times. The Audience was transmitted all over London and the UK last night and you could hardly get a ticket. It’s a revolution in theatre and I only wish NT Live had been around a hundred or more years ago so we could all have seen what Olivier and Irving and Kean and Garrick were really like.

######

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s