This National Theatre Live screening was part of the project to broadcast live to cinemas from the London stage . It gives access to London productions at convenient locations for a fraction of the ticket price. This performance was an encore of a broadcast on 13th June from London’s Gielgud Theatre, repeated due to the high demand.
The productions take the cinema audience into the theatre, as the audience arrives. There is usually an introductory talk. This time it was by Emma Freud, who also interviewed the play’s author, Peter Morgan. In the interval, we saw the audience chatting, but were also treated to a filmed item about the costumes and wigs. The camera angles take a little getting used to; they show close-ups of the person speaking, which you do not get in live theatre. So it is not exactly like being in the theatre, but cost and convenience outweigh any niggles. Forthcoming productions include Macbeth on 20th July (Kenneth Branagh in the title role)and Othello on 26th September (Adrian Lester as the Moor).
The play is based on the weekly audience Her Majesty has with the Prime Minister. These take place in private at the Palace. Their content is never divulged. In this play, Helen Mirren reprises her Academy Award winning role as Elizabeth II. She does not stray into impersonation, but keeps coming up with mannerisms that make you think Ah, yes, of course the Queen does that…this is also how the various Prime Ministers are played.
Peter Morgan has imagined what goes on and presents a series ofconversations with 8 of the 12 Prime Ministers of her reign (Blair and Heath are notably left out, and there is no sighting of Sir Alec or Macmillan). The need to invent what might have been said has in some places led to caricature and cheap laughs. Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe) is presented as oafish and disrespectful; John Major (Paul Ritter) as whining and childish. Their casual and boorish behaviour in the Queen’s presence is just not credible. Mrs Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne) performs over-elaborate curtseys that serve to make her look grand. Although that meeting is heated, the degree of reverence is credible, as it is with Gordon Brown (an uncanny likeness by Nathaniel Parker).
Although the meetings are not shown chronologically, they tell us that as her 1st PM, Churchill took the lead, but by 2013 and Cameron, the Queen even knew when it was safe to nod off. Indeed, by the time she was speaking to Eden over the Suez crisis, she was ahead of him through close attention to her red boxes. That meeting is the most dramatically effective.
There is a poignant thread running through the play that forms a moving sub-text. The young Princess Elizabeth ( a marvellous performance by Nell Williams) often appears to chat to her older self. There is an awful moment when Nanny, Bobo (Charlotte Moor) explains her line in the succession and the Princess asks how they can stop it. There are glimpses of the young girl listening by the Palace walls for shreds of the conversations of passers-by, of her friends curtseying and not being allowed to call her by name. When John Major whines that nobody notices him, the response is “How lovely.” Thus the dilemma of being locked into the Royal role is subtly shown.
Peter Morgan’s use of humour makes this entertaining, enlivened by some amazing costume changes . The Queen grows older or younger in seconds but you cannot tell how it is done. The play enables us to snoop on some delicious conversations (albeit the author’s guesswork), in royal homes and confirms the imagined foibles of familiar figures. It has pathos, some lavish costumes and good visual appeal. Very worth seeing.
Add a Comment