Queen Elizabeth II has had a weekly audience with her prime ministers at Buckingham Palace for over 60 years. This meeting is completely private and is not recorded in any way leaving the current pm free to unburden themselves as well as to bring the queen up to date on what has and is about to occur in state affairs.
The award winning playwright Peter Morgan has imagined what may have taken place during some of these meetings. Helen Mirren (who else?) plays the queen, aging between 25 to 86. The costume and wig changes, on stage, were superbly orchestrated and the transformation was always credible. The cast were extremely well chosen and the fact the sixty years were not portrayed chronologically added to the enjoyment. Only eight prime ministers were portrayed in this play and her relationship with each was at times funny and moving.
Poignantly, alongside the queen’s dialogue with her PMs was the queen’s relationship with her 11 year old self. The wonderful thing about this play was the conflict of emotions it engendered, world affairs were always in the background giving a realistic sense of time. As well as being entertaining and nostalgic, it was continuously kept up to date; there was a mention of Prince Phillips’s illness and the death of Margeret Thatcher both of which occurred during the run. My overall impression was one of tremendous admiration and empathy for the queen and looking forward to more of Peter Morgan’s writing.
There were many witty one liners in this but one of my favourites was the queen referring to herself as a ‘postage stamp with a pulse’.
The play won 67 year old Helen Mirren her first Olivier award for Best Actress and she quipped that HRH Queen Elizabeth II, who deserved an award, “for the most consistent and committed performance of the 20th century, and probably the 21st century.”
By Jill Byrne