PostHeaderIcon The Queen Bee and Her Drones

In this internet age, when everyone knows everything about everybody, few people have managed to retain an air of mystery. One such is Elizabeth II Regina who has ruled Great Britain longer than any prior monarch (55 years and counting). We know more about the prime ministers who have served the Crown during her reign; familiar names like Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and, most recently, Theresa May.

Elizabeth & Anthony Edan

Elizabeth & Anthony Edan

Of course, the Royal Family invites endless gossip about the private lives of the Windsors: Princes Philip, Charles, William and Harry and their wives and dating partners. Only Elizabeth resides in deep privacy. We see her at official ceremonies in her classic frocks and dowdy hats but who she is and what she thinks are hidden. She must be clever and “on the ball”, so to speak, to maintain her legitimacy and appeal for so long.

Well, one person has pierced the velvet veil surrounding her. That is Peter Morgan, playwright of “The Audience”, the season-opening play at Timeline Theatre. He first plumbed the royals in his earlier play, “The Queen” about how Princess Diana’s death affected Elizabeth.

For this effort, he has plumbed historical sources to create believable characters who served as the Queen’s ministers. Morgan received advice on the political and historical content of the weekly audiences the Queen had with her prime ministers from Professor Vernon Bogdanor, the former tutor of David Cameron. His greater accomplishment is to take us inside Buckingham Palace and Elizabeth’s mind to give us what sound like her real remarks.

Director Nick Bowling‘s staging is masterful. Timeline’s bare-bones stage is carpeted to resemble the Queen’s palace. The action takes place in the round with Elizabeth’s ministers entering from one of four surrounding doors. Yet, Elizabeth always stands at stage center, true to her place and power.

Elizabeth & Harold Wilson

Elizabeth & Harold Wilson

The first to enter is John Major, a “nervous nelly” who complains of sniping within his government and calls himself an “invisible man.” The Queen deflects his woe-is-me litany with witty repartee. The stage is next occupied by a figure full of bluster, Winston Churchill. Elizabeth is steely with him, showing that she will not be cowed by his claims of “tradition,” though she is only a monarch in her late twenties. The next, out of order, is the raffish Labor PM, Harold Wilson, a man proud of his lower class roots.

“The Audience” begins as a high-end costume drama of middling consequence. No great matters of state are exposed. That all changes in Act II when Elizabeth faces two formidable opponents who presume they are her equal, Anthony Eden and Margaret Thatcher. Eden tries to pull the wool over her eyes with his handling of the Suez Canal disaster while Thatcher’s combativeness and racism on South Africa sits in contrast to the Queen’s sympathy for that nation’s people and her commitment to the Commonwealth. The play ends with a touching encounter with Wilson, her favorite minister.

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Elizabeth

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Elizabeth

Janet Ulrich Brooks gives a commanding performance as Elizabeth. She is onstage for the entire play and displays a full range of emotion as well as facial expressions to convey her feelings. It is a performance not to be missed. Elizabeth has usually seemed a blank slate to me with her prime ministers grabbing all the headlines. Morgan’s triumph is to make us see her as the true central figure, guiding her nation through the last days of empire and throughout the tumultuous last half-century.

After two hours of sparring with a cast of wily public servants, the Queen defiantly claims, “I’m still here!” You, reader, should make a beeline for Timeline to catch this totally satisfying drama while The Queen remains in residence through November 12th. For tickets, contact Timeline at www.timelinetheatre.com.

 

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