This past weekend I was lucky enough to see The Audience, produced and staged by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre! I’m so happy that my family enjoys going to theatre and dance and musical productions, I think that the arts are good for the soul. And while Winnipeg is not necessarily the most happening of cities, companies like the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet help us hold our ground as a culturally important city. We’ve been looking forward to this play since last winter when it was announced it would be in this season’s line up, and it did not disappoint….
The Audience is a play about Queen Elizabeth II and her weekly audiences with her twelve Prime Ministers. Aside from Tony Blair’s tenure, she meets with her Prime Minister briefly on Tuesday nights to catch up theoretically on the political happenings of the UK and foreign affairs but as we see, just as often personal events as well. The setting is quite simple, one of two rooms (at Buckingham Palace or at Balmoral Castle) where the Queen receives her PM. Two armchairs and a heater or two arm chairs, a side table, and a desk are all that is needed to convey the Queen’s residence. The play itself is not chronological, but this is a benefit to the story- it underlines the similarities between PMs and emphasises the Queen’s experience. (You might think as a PM this situation has never happened, but Her Majesty has probably seen it. More than once.) We don’t see every PM but nearly all of them, including David Cameron! It was written prior to Brexit, but that only adds more nuance to the play seeing it now. Whenever a new PM is introduced, either the equerry or the Queen will state their name to help the audience (us-audience, not PM-in-the-play-audience) identify who’s who.
I have to admit, this is possibly the best play that I have had the fortune to see. I spent the entire time glued to the stage and couldn’t look away! The three actresses in the role of QEII (at various ages) did a wonderful job, and were impressive with how well they have picked up the speech, cadence, and mannerisms of Her Majesty. Sometimes in the middle of the Praries accents can be a little suspects, but everyone’s was spot on. The footmen were in practically every scene, and although I had to remind myself to look for them, they observed proper protocol for a royal servant, and the equerry was the perfect guide to lead us from one audience to the next.
I haven’t been lucky enough to venture inside Buck House yet (I’m never there when it’s open to the public), but I have a feeling that this room won’t be included in the tour. However, while I normally don’t love a minimalist set, this worked perfectly for The Audience. It tells you exactly where you are and what is essential to the story without being distracting in any way. As a medieval historian who is also a Royalist, I fall in a bit of a weird place. I know a lot about the social and personal lives of the royal family (as much as biographies tell you, at least) but I know very little of modern history. However, the brief discussions between HM and her PMs nudged me in the right directions, and I’m actually going to be looking for a few books to inform myself on a few of these decades! Also, you know what the play also had? A REAL LIVE CORGI WHO STOLE THE WHOLE SHOW WHEN IT SPRINTED ACROSS THE STAGE!!!! For reals guys, I couldn’t have been happier than when that little pupper made an appearance.
As I said before, this is the most interesting and well performed play that I have seen to date, and I am so happy that even though this is a busy time of year we were able to take the few hours to sit and enjoy it!
What is your favourite play?