Dame Helen Mirren reprises her Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globe winning role in a new play penned by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, Skyfall), and it is directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot). She is joined by a great supporting cast including Robert Hardy, Haydn Gwynne, and Paul Ritter. The subject matter is the weekly and very private meetings that take place between the Queen and the Prime Minister.
On the basis of the above, there is enough for a more than acceptable night at the theatre; however, this play needs to be seen for somewhat a different reason: It is brilliant.
Morgan has put together a compelling set of 'Audiences' that entertain and elucidate in equal measure, containing more than a few belly-laugh moments. Using humour, humanity, and humility, and giving them to those who can never openly express such traits, there is a near instantaneous connection with the theatre audience. The play captivates from the beginning.
Morgan has chosen to mix things up a little and have the play move forward in a non-chronological manner, and this is where Daldry’s direction and Mirren’s acting genius come to the fore. The pace is just fast enough to keep you entertained, but also allows you to digest the nuances of the characters, including the many ages of the Queen, from young wife, to mother, to grandmother. Mirren is amazing and effortlessly moves through these; her posture, voice and confidence all adjusting and displaying a different facet of the same person. The interaction with the young Elizabeth is inspired, and gives the Queen a much deeper and richer character, but what got me was the on-stage chemistry with the PMs; despite being only the second performance, it was near perfect.
What makes this more than the sum of its parts is that the characters develop and are not just caricatures, and this is where Daldry has been very careful, and the supporting cast really fleshes out the production. News footage, rather than Spitting Image, have been their templates. There is genuine comedy, and when I saw it, at many points, the theatre audience broke into spontaneous applause. But there are touching moments, too, one being a scene between the Queen and her favourite PM, and I confess to having a tear in my eye, along with most of the people around me.
There are, without question, some very good plays lined up for this year. (I have booked to see 25 of them already.) But this, for me, was a Jerusalem moment, and the only way in which this play could have been improved would have been by having Mark Rylance in it. Other than that it is faultless, and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t see it before it undoubtedly transfers to Broadway. However, something tells me that there will be a follow up, perhaps called Mrs Windsor and Mr Blair. I sincerely hope.
Second Degree paid for his own ticket and program (which Ms Mirren signed!) and has already booked and paid to see the show again in June.