Theatre review

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The Audience, South Holland Centre, Spalding

Helen Mirren gave a magnificent performance as the Queen in Peter Morgan’s marvellous play The Audience screened live from the Gielgud Theatre to South Holland Centre on Thursday.

For 60 years Elizabeth II has met each of her 12 Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace – a meeting like no other in British public life in that it is private. Both parties have an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is said. Not even to their spouses.

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 Prime Minister has used these private conversations as a sounding board and a confessional, sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive. In turn, the Queen can’t help but reveal her own self as she advises, consoles and, on occasion, teases.

From young mother to grandmother these private audiences chart the arc of the second Elizabethan Age. Politicians come and go through the revolving door of electoral politics, while she remains constant, waiting to welcome her next Prime Minister.

The cast were some of our finest character actors, all of whom gave excellent performances.

Helen Mirren as the queen was dignified and charming and the costume changes were done quite unobtrusively on stage as the changing dresses and wigs indicated the different eras of her reign. Her performance showed the Queen’s vulnerability, her Christian faith and her dedication to her long and sometimes lonely service.

Nathaniel Parker captured Gordon Brown’s character and mannerisms magnificently and Paul Ritter was equally affecting as John Major. There was a very uncomfortable atmosphere when Haydn Gwyne’s steely Mrs Thatcher entered and steam-rolled the Queen because she is upset over an alleged political leak from the palace.

But for me the performance of the evening must go to Richard MaCabe for his brilliant Harold Wilson who enter the stage as a brash northern labour minister with a bit of a chip on his shoulder who is quickly charmed by the Queen as they share a sense of humour and purpose, to his touching final decline later on in the play.

There is a last chance to see this funny and touching play as South Holland Centre is running another viewing of The Audience on Monday, July 1 at 2pm and some tickets are still available (at the time of going to press).