Helen Mirren Is Performing Live as Elizabeth II Less Than 100 Miles From Philly
Philadelphia, take note: Helen Mirren is acting on a stage 100 miles from our city center, and you’d be foolish to miss her utterly breathtaking performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Broadway’s The Audience.
This isn’t the first time Mirren has tackled the role of Queen Elizabeth II; many will recall her Oscar-winning turn in 2006’s The Queen, where she played the distraught monarch dealing with the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay for The Queen, also wrote The Audience, and those who loved the film will instantly notice similar nuances in his play.
The work itself is rather simple: Through a series of vignettes that jump across decades, we get to see Elizabeth interact with eight of her twelve prime ministers, and discover through these interactions the resolve, intellect, and, indeed, despair of Her Majesty. One can’t help but feel a sense of compassion and respect for Elizabeth via Mr. Morgan’s subtle characterization—from Winston Churchill’s lack of respect and her genuine friendship with Harold Wilson to the clear disdain she had for Margaret Thatcher (the feeling was mutual).
The play is effective because of Mirren, who effortlessly shifts between decades as the Queen. Her performance is the stuff of legend: At 69, she tackles every moment with a real sense of Elizabeth as a person, royalty removed. She appears on stage for the entire play, and changes her simple costumes (designed rather brilliantly by Bob Crowley) with a pull of a string or zipper while an ensemble of maids change her wigs. There isn’t much of a set to hide behind (two yellow chairs), nor does Mirren need one: This is an acting master class for two-and-a-half hours, and you’ll be mesmerized.
Mirren isn’t the only outstanding member of the cast: The supporting players are all excellent and received hearty applause during each of their exits throughout the performance. Of note, Judith Ivey (Designing Women) played a staunch and delightfully stoic Margaret Thatcher, and Olivier Award-winner Richard McCabe is a moving Harold Wilson, who we find out was ultimately the Queen’s favorite.
Perhaps what makes The Audience so powerful is its ability to reduce the grand scope of the British monarchy to its simplest form—a discussion between two people: the Queen and her audience. That, and of course the amazing Mirren leading the ship, makes this personalization all the more powerful. During a heated argument she has with Sir John Major about improving the monarchy’s favorability in the pubic eye after Diana’s death, the Queen takes to center stage, removes her simple purple dress, and recalls her coronation: A small group of women adorn her with a lavish gown and crown. Nevertheless, despite the extravagance, we’re able to see a woman who is conflicted yet proud of her heritage. To call the moment “powerful” is an understatement.
Long live Dame Mirren.
The Audience plays the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street, New York City. For more information, click here.