Theatre lovers staying in London hotels this week have just a few more opportunities to catch one of this year's biggest theatrical events. The Audience, a new play directed by Stephen Daldry and starring the Oscar-winning Helen Mirren, premiered at the West End's Gielgud Theatre earlier this year and is set to wrap up on June 15th.
Reviving the creative partnership that made the 2006 movie The Queen such a success for the British film industry, The Audience pairs screenwriter Peter Morgan – responsible for Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland and early drafts of last year's James Bond outing Skyfall – with Mirren, who steps into Queen Elizabeth II's shoes for the second time.
Mirren's credentials are particularly assured, having won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her previous performance as the monarch and a string of other industry accolades besides. In The Audience, rather than offering an isolated snapshot of Elizabeth II at a single moment in time, Mirren appears in a series of scenarios drawn from across the breadth of the Queen's 60-year reign.
These depict private meetings between the monarch and her incumbent prime ministers – an audience that has been granted weekly, and in sworn secrecy, for each of the 12 leaders who have served the country since her 1953 coronation.
Morgan imagines what might have been discussed behind closed doors at Buckingham Palace – whether intimate confessions or explosive revelations – by some of the biggest figures in post-war British politics. Mirren's Elizabeth II speaks to the likes of Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill as a young mother; much later, she addresses Gordon Brown and David Cameron with all the wisdom and maturity accrued over six decades as head of state.
Stephen Daldry, well-known outside of theatrical circles as the director of Billy Elliot and The Reader, brings his usual flair to the Gielgud Theatre production and the cast is filled out by the likes of Haydn Gwynne and Paul Ritter.