Review: The Audience, Apollo Theatre

“A good Labour woman…”

Not content with becoming a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire earlier this year, Kristin Scott Thomas was also awarded an upgraded Légion d’honneur (from chevalier to officer to be precise) in what has become something of a banner year for her. She’s also completing the not-inconsiderable feat of stepping into Helen Mirren’s award-winning shoes as Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s The Audience, whilst Dame Helen reprises the role and the award-winning on Broadway.

Morgan’s revival has updated the play a little from its first outing – Tony Blair is in, Jim Callaghan is out, the recent election gets its mention with a barbed Miliband joke, but essentially it remains the same non-confrontational easy-Sunday-evening –television style viewing. The parade of PMs mostly play off a sole predictable character note, the Queen gets an easy ride of it with a strange intimation of where her personal politics might lie, there’s not a dramatic surprise to be had in here nor anything truly arresting through all its luxuriousness.

Stephen Daldry’s production has a wonderfully glossy sheen to it, especially in Bob Crowley’s clever set design, and deals with the non-chronological nature of the narrative beautifully. A crack team essay a series of onstage costume and wig changes that utterly transform Scott Thomas as she quickly moves to the next scene, it is brilliantly conceived and expertly done. But it is also indicative of the show’s weakness – it only ever really becomes affecting when it deviates from the format and allows something different to occur.

Whether raging against Sylvestra Le Touzel’s fearsome Maggie for her South African-related indiscretion or icily receiving the news of Princess Diana’s latest opinions from Michael Gould’s grey grey grey John Major, something is allowed to come to life in the actress and the play that is too rarely seen. Nicholas Woodeson’s Harold Wilson – was ever a man more maligned onstage?! – is another example of this, his repeated visits allowing more of a relationship to be depicted and developed between the pair. Still, a enduringly classy affair all round.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson

Booking until 25th July 

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