The Vintage Theater’s “The Audience” is a play for the Anglophiles. But this show succeeds even for those without a love for all things U.K. due to a plethora of powerhouse performances.
“The Audience,” making its first run in Colorado, tries to shed light on the weekly private conversations between Queen Elizabeth II and the succession of prime ministers that have served during her reign. Written by British playwright Peter Morgan, this script is heavily tilted toward residents of the British Isles, Anglophiles and lovers of 20th Century European history.
A typical American theatergoer might not appreciate the historical underpinnings of the Suez Canal Crisis, the genesis for jokes involving the coldness of Margaret Thatcher and the political ineptitude of John Major. This is definitely a play written by a Brit for the Brits.
But it speaks to both the quality of the script, and the actors the Vintage has brought in, that even those without a degree in British history or a picture of the Queen Mother on their wall will find this show enjoyable.
While it focuses on a very British perspective, there is substantial humor to be found in the script in large part to the universality of politics. Whether it’s the British Parliament or the United States Senate, politicians are politicians and any joke made at their expense is going to generate a laugh. When John Major, portrayed in a strong performance by Mark Collins, laments about being the invisible man in politics and such a poor student, it doesn’t matter that the audience doesn’t have a strong understanding of Major’s career. Everyone knows of a weak willed politician that seems to disappear in a crowd of more strong-willed characters.
Andy Anderson playing an earthy Harold Wilson, Suzanna Wellens as the iron-willed Thatcher, and John McDonald as Winston Churchill are highlights of a massive cast filled with exceptional performances. McDonald performance, even for the brief time he’s on stage, is especially noteworthy in that he brings Churchill to life without resorting to an over-the-top recreation of the politician’s famous voice and speaking patterns.
But at the center of the play is Queen Elizabeth, played by Vintage mainstay Deborah Persoff. This is Persoff’s play and it succeeds in large part due to her performance. Besides from a few wig and costume changes, it is up to Persoff’s acting ability to embody the monarch over a 60 year period. She skillfully changes up her voice, mannerisms and physicality gives the audience a sense of a woman as the time periods jump back and forth.
Where the play hits a few snags is in its focus on Elizabeth’s isolation both as a ceremonial figurehead and as a child predestined to live a life under the microscope. It is in these scenes where an appreciation of the monarchy and an understanding of the life of a royal would come in handy.
But even while the focus on Elizabeth’s transition from young child to new monarch to experienced leader might fall flat for some, it is the power of the cast that makes “The Audience” a success.
Four out of five stars
“The Audience” at the Vintage Theater
Playing now through May 13. For more information and tickets, visit www.vintagetheatre.com.