Theatre in Review

Thursday, 31 August 2017 23:48

What Does the Queen Do? The Audience Explains Why Brits Have Royalty Featured

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Janet Ulrich Brooks is Queen Elizabeth II and Matt DeCaro is Harold Wilson in The Audience at TimeLine Theatre. Janet Ulrich Brooks is Queen Elizabeth II and Matt DeCaro is Harold Wilson in The Audience at TimeLine Theatre. Photo by Lara Goesch

You don’t need to be an Anglophile to love The Audience.

Directed admirably by Nick bowling, it is written by Peter Morgan, the trending screenwriter of the The Queen (Helen Mirren) and the Netflix series The Crown, developed another angle on portraying Queen Elizabeth II: recounting a number of the 20-minute political briefings delivered weekly by Britain’s Prime Minister in a private audience with her Majesty.

This engaging stroll through history will also help explain to American's the vital role the Queen still plays in British society - though whether she's too expensive isn't resolved. The Queen functions as the reflective conscience of the British people, and remains as Prime Ministers come and go. 

Even before her coronation, the young Elizabeth is carrying on the tradition, and the play soon brings us to Churchill – who refuses to sit for the conversation. Elizabeth soon puts her stamp on the matter, and he Sir Winston is soon seated and receiving a dose of scotch. She also regularly reminds all her PMs that she heads what was the British Commonwealth - 52 nations largely former colonies who have at least some fealty to British culture and the Queen. 

Janet Ulrich Brooks does a marvelous job as the Queen, and the role is demanding for any actress. The playwright avoids a rote chronological sequence by having scenes jump around in time. Brooks ages in place, and manages to convey a constancy of personality, while also evolving Elizabeth who grows up and gets old before our eyes.

Janet Ulrich Brooks  is so seriously good here, notwithstanding inevitable comparisons with Helen Mirren, who originated the role in London and brought it to Broadway. You will not think one jot about Mirren when you watch her.

Brooks is also surrounded by a remarkable cast. Along with the Queen, there is another constant figure on stage through all the political ages: the Equerry played with immeasurable aplomb by David Lively. The Equerry is to the Queen, as she is the Prime Minister. The conversations in the weekly audience  are expected to be entirely private. And while the Queen is not actually ruling, she is reflecting – and her periodic interjections certainly have influenced the government.

Playwright Morgan has distilled the essence of each of these PMs, while resisting caricature, and tapping into the memorable issues during their terms. Think of names the strongly resonate, like Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, John Major, David Cameron. Kudo’s to the actors and to Matt DeCaro (Winston Churchill / Harold Wilson / Tony Blair), and Mark Ulrich (John Major / Gordon Brown / Anthony Eden / David Cameron). DeCaro and Ulrich have physically taxing roles, and deliver their Prime Ministers with verve and precision. 

Carmen Roman as Margaret Thatcher was a dead ringer, and also brought frisson to the scene in which she confronts Queen Elizabeth for disparaging her Reagan-like dismantling of Britain’s social safety net and socialized marketplace.

Also notable for its timeliness – with the 20th anniversary of her death -  is the scene in which Queen Elizabeth’s emotional struggles with Princess Diana rise to the surface – but just barely.

A cinematic trope brings a child actor onto the stage intermittently in a nod to the Queen’s childhood – I can’t say those were effective scenes, but they provided leavening for the rest of the play.   

The Audience is recommended. It plays through November 12 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. in Chicago

Last modified on Friday, 01 September 2017 00:41
Bill Esler

A native Chicagoan, Bill Esler has been a printer and publisher for more than 35 years. He has B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Knox College.  

 

 

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