The Audience, National Theatre Live. Cinema City, Norwich. June 2013
It has been a while since I've seen a live broadcast at the cinema. Several of this season's plays I've seen live and one I just couldn't make it to any of the showings however I knew I had to see this one if at all possible.
I'd really have liked to have seen this one on stage but lack of time and unavailability of tickets when I was free made it impossible, so the next best thing has to be the National Theatre Live.
The play is deceptively simple - once a week, when possible, the Queen meets in private with the Prime Minister. What is discussed in these audiences is not known...
There have been 12 Prime Ministers in the 61 years since HM came to the throne and not all of them get a mention here but those that do are very cleverly portrayed. The 'audiences' depicted are usually from momentous points in the political life of the PM and the interesting view is that the Queen is actually more of a therapist than monarch. In her constitutional role she can't give opinions or change how parliament is working but through these conversations you see her try to influence outcomes through her guidance, advice and experience.
Through very clever costume and wig changes the play moves backwards and forwards in time - Major is the first PM that we meet, then back to Churchill then forwards again. One scene must be re-written weekly, if not daily, as the conversation between HM and Cameron mentioned Prince Philip's current stay in hospital.
The play is genuinely funny, heartwarming and moving - I don't think I've been to a NT Live screening where there was so much laughter. I was unsure at first about the conversations held between the Queen and her childhood self and while they grew on me and I can see why they were included I did find that they did break the flow a little.
The only thing I really didn't like about the broadcast was the tight focus on characters - this often meant we missed the clever costume changes, and made it hard to suspend belief and see Dame Helen Mirren as a 20 year old. Seated in the theatre at a distance from the stage this would have been easier to see - although then of course you'd miss the subtle eye rolls and facial ticks that show what HM is thinking during the audiences.
In the interval there was an interview with the play's author and I really liked what he had to say about truth and accuracy. Obviously no one knows what happens in the audiences but as he said from biographies, memoirs and interviews you can get a feel for how they go - thus these exact words might not have happened but the audience would have gone along those lines.
I laughed lots and I did have a lump in my throat at the end, I wish I'd managed to see the play live on stage but this was a great alternative. If it is shown as an Encore and you aren't sure if you'd like it I'd say go - it doesn't matter if you are to the left or right politically or a rabid republican it is just a great play!
image taken from the NY Times