Arts Club, Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre, until Feb 26th
By Kelly Moncton
The Audience is an impressive show, balancing humour, heart, and politics deftly. The collaboration and sparring between Queen Elizabeth and her many prime ministers is an interesting topic. Despite this, I left the show feeling that I had missed out on details and names. It would be a better fit for British audiences, or at least Vancouverites with better background in politics.
Anna Galvin’s performance as the monarch was masterful. She barely stopped performing, as some of her costume changes were onstage while she chatted with her teenaged memory. I was impressed by how her voice and posture seemed natural, but also reflected the decades of aging from one scene to the next. Her mannerisms and approach to the various leaders were beautifully clear without losing subtlety.
The program notes provided by the Arts Club were a help in keeping track of the eight prime ministers who appeared. There were still moments during the show where I was relying on the clothing styles and other cues to keep track of which time period we were in. I was torn between gratitude that we didn’t do a boring chronological recitation of events, and a longing for more understanding of what was going on. Perhaps one or two fewer prime ministers would have helped this poor Commonwealth citizen stay on board?
Luckily, Joel Wirkkunen’s Winston Churchill was a clear landmark early on. The contrast between his gruff ways and Elizabeth’s fresh confidence made for a great scene. Thatcher’s visit was saved for the second act, and quite dramatic. Short of playing “Wicked Witch of the West” music, Erin Ormond’s entrance couldn’t have been played up more. Luckily, the ensuing scene involved enough polite jabs and tension to live up to the big entrance. I was also grateful to have multiple scenes with David Marr’s Harold Wilson. The chance to get more familiar with one face was welcome, and his transformation from a brash, nervous man to a more comfortable,
worried man was well done.
Some details, like footmen moving smoothly through the scene changes, and the equerry explaining tradition and protocol to the audience, were very effective at setting the scene. I wasn’t as convinced that we needed to see so much of Princess Elizabeth. Bianca Sanchez Galvin did a lovely job, especially in a radio address, but often her scenes felt too clearly
like filler for a costume change.
All of the contrasts and neuroses in the different politicians, and Her Majesty’s varied responses, made a lovely mix. It felt like a highlight reel from an impressive TV series. You should certainly see Anna Galvin in action, and enjoy this polished production.
By Liz Gloucester
Celebrating her sapphire jubilee and pipping her great-great-no-so-amused grandmother Victoria to the post for longest serving monarch Old Queenie has so far lived through twelve prime ministers of the United Kingdom. Peter Morgan's 'The Audience' in turn serves to show the public a fictionalised glimpse into some of her private weekly meetings with the head of the British government. Elizabeth II is our guide; the constant. She ages, the photographs on her bureau update, the headlines and the hemlines change - but her show horse stance remains throughout; rather like the control in an experiment. It is the changing of the prime ministers that brings the intrigue; after all there is very little 'action' to speak of in this play – unless you count the charge of two very excitable but very charming corgis who appeared in a scene set at Balmoral.
The play opens with the Equerry1, stoically played by Bernard Cuffling who introduces to us the notion of the Audience and describes it's protocol and the furnishings of the room it takes place in. We are then launched into the first interview: it is the nineties and John Major is whining about his being unpopular. I found Ted Cole's performance very engaging however, critically I do not remember John Major being anywhere near as animated. This is the man famously described as being 'so boring that he ran away from the circus to become an accountant'2 and was shown permanently grey in his incarnations on 'Spitting Image'3.
This is where this production is flawed. One would expect in a play where several of the characters are real people; most of whom are still living; that there would be more of a journey towards better imitation. While enthralling within the context of narrative the prime ministers were not all instantly recognisable – and they should have been to a British National. As ever in this city, the accents were not spot on, ranging from decent, to passable to appalling. The Scottish in particular might have been better not attempted; Melissa Oei seemed to have given up with hers and Tom McBeath's Gordon Brown sounded as though he hailed from Northern Ireland.
With the exception of David Marr's touching performance as bumbling 'tradesman' Harold Wilson most of the prime ministers are not presented in a flattering light. Stubborn Churchill is shown to come round pretty quickly to the inexperienced young Elizabeth; Major reveals that he only achieved 3 O Levels4; Eden's Audience not only shows his deception at Suez but also his impairing pill-popping; Elizabeth makes reference to Blair as having shown up at Balmoral in 'tweed so new he might have left the price tags on'5 and Cameron, well... Jay Hindle used his artistic license to manspread all over the royal furniture.
Frequently topping the polls of most hated prime minister - Erin Ormond's self-interested Iron Lady was phenomenal. I wished I had brought a bag of rotten veg to toss at the old bitch. Her proclamation to 'Make Britain Great again' definitely touched some nerves in the house given recent world events; although in her defence, at least she was qualified for the job. Perhaps for fear of treason, Morgan doesn't write Elizabeth to be flawed. Throughout the play her ideas, suggestions and warnings are startlingly 21st century. Anna Galvin allowed both the wisdom and the wit to shine in her portrayal of the monarch.
The star of the Audience however must go to the design team. The set and costumes were glorious; the changes seamless and the music made me cry- but then show me a Brit who is able to keep a stiff upper lip during the Lark Ascending and I shall get on the blower and refer you for a knighthood.
1. An officer of the British royal household
2.Linda Smith on an episode of BBC's Have I Got News for You
3. 1984-1996 British satirical puppet show
4. National examinations taken at 16 years old in the UK, which are the main qualification for career credentials. Replaced by GCSEs in 1988.
5. The nouveau-riche and try-hards are mocked a lot in my country