Tag Archives: Haydn Gwynne

REVIEW: The Audience, Gielgud Theatre, London

The_Audience_RT_569x315Again in the West End it would appear that the main draw of new play The Audience is its star Helen Mirren, however, that would be doing a great disservice to Peter Morgan’s deftly written, insightful and highly amusing play.

For the 60 years of her reign, on a Tuesday evening, Elizabeth II has met with each of her Prime Ministers. In his play The Audience Peter Morgan, writer of Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning role in The Queen, uses the fact that these encounters are never minuted and bound by a confidentiality that excludes even their spouses, to imagine what takes place during these interactions.

The audiences with eight of the Monarch’s twelve Prime Ministers is told in non-chronological sequence, and is interwoven with scenes of reflection between the Queen and her teenage self, illustrating as she nears adulthood, her growing resignation to her duty.

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As well as showing Her Majesty as confessor and therapist, the piece also hints at a monarch with strongly held political convictions of her own: Harold Wilson at one point jokingly telling the Queen that he has always suspected she was a Lefty at heart and the Queen strongly asserting her disapproval at Margaret Thatcher’s reluctance to impose sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime.

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Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson

There are moments of weakness shown too: the de-commissioning of the royal yacht Britannia and Princess Diana’s scathing criticism in Andrew Morton’s tell-all memoir reveal chinks in the Monarch’s armour.

The inclusion of current events, only 48 hours on from the death of Mrs. Thatcher the details of her funeral have been added in by the writer and the Queen’s disapproval of the recently abdicated Pope whom she bemoans as a light weight, not a lifer like her, all imbue the play with a greater ┬ábelievability.

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Mirren is, as expected, suitably regal in the role and travels through the decades with ease. The eye-poppingly swift on-stage costume and wig changes are accompanied by a well-observed subtle change of voice here or a more youthful gesture there.

However it is with varying degress of success that the characterisations of the eight ministers are achieved. Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson and Paul Ritter as John Major are particularly effective. McCabe doesn’t come close to Wilson’s nasal tones but his portrayal of (allegedly) the Queen’s favourite PM is endearing, humorous and touching in turn. Ritter perfectly conveys Major’s ill-ease and inadequacy in a job he really didn’t want, his revelation to the Queen that he left school with only three O-Levels is met with the retort: “Well I have no O-Levels at all…what fine hands the country is in.”

Less successful is Nathaniel Parker’s portrayal of Gordon Brown, his physical quirks are on the money but his Scottish accent appears to have come to him via Dublin and Mumbai. Haydn Gwynne also veers into Spitting Image territory, giving a steely-eyed and shellac-haired version of Mrs. Thatcher.

Conspicuous in his absence though, is Tony Blair, having been thoroughly dealt with in Peter Morgan’s 2006 film The Queen.

THE AUDIENCE by Peter Morgan

Bob Crowley’s clever design reflects both the formal coldness of Buckingham Palace and the actual arctic conditions but comfort and shabbiness of Balmoral, replete with its three bar electric fire.

With a stellar cast and some perfectly honed performances, this is finally a show that lives up to the hype.

All images by Johan Persson.

REVIEW: Richard III starring Kevin Spacey, Old Vic Theatre London, 13th July 2011

It’s a funny thing indeed to see your acting hero in the flesh, there’s a hint of unreality that it’s really just a film your watching. Expectations were high; the tension in the air before the performance at the Old Vic was palpable. I have never felt an atmosphere like it, the audience was literally buzzing.

The moment Kevin Spacey appeared on stage and announced “Now is the winter of our discontent” there was a sharp intake of breathe and the audience seemed to hold it there in total silence for the next two hours until the first interval. It’s a testament to him and a strong supporting cast that the two hours flew by in the blink of an eye. Totally breathtaking from start to finish.

It’s easy to see why Spacey has two Oscars, he is totally magnetic, even when not part of the action you can’t help follow his every move. Chewing The Scenery blog agrees;

“He (Spacey) is unavoidably watchable whenever he is on stage; often his reactions and expressions are more exciting than the dialogue being delivered by the rest of the very talented cast. In no way does Spacey attempt to compensate for his screen acting experience by exaggerating his gestures beyond what is necessary; every gesture is beautifully judged and every syllable articulate. Put plainly, Kevin Spacey over the course of three and a half hours proves to over 1,000 people each night exactly why he is the best. His monologues and asides to the audience are so delightfully acted, it was hard not to become mesmerised in the presence of a true star.”

This was a truly momentous experience – one you get the feeling only comes around once a decade. Proof of this was the fact there were more famous actors in the audience than on the stage, no doubt coming to see if Spacey was all he was hyped up to be. Well, simply put – he is! I, like my fellow audience members was on my feet at the end and the ovation just thundered on and on. This was remarkable – unforgettable theatrical magic!