If you incline your head in a certain way not found outside a yoga class, and make sure you see a good osteopath afterwards, you can get a decent view of most of the action in the £27.50 seats at the Gielgud Theatre to watch The Audience. Anyone hoping for a complex portrait of an accidental monarch, presiding over equally complex events, will be disappointed. However, what you do get is a fascinating story, well-told, with one overriding political theme (don’t mess about in the Middle East) and some amusing and occasionally touching portraits of prime ministers past and present. The standout PM, Harold Wilson, perhaps the most fascinating one of all those portrayed, is given a nice performance by Richard McCabe, who captures Wilson’s common touch (he famously said he preferred tinned salmon to smoked) and his increasing paranoia later in life as he began to feel the early effects of the dementia that would force him out of public life. Paul Ritter is equally spot-on as accidental PM John Major, and it was good to see Churchill portrayed as a less than ideal fellow.
The only false note was provided by Haydn Gwynne’s Thatcher.You wouldn’t expect her character to emerge as appealing in a product of the arts establishment, but this episode of the show presented a too-easy target and a cack-handed attempt at hitting it.
The audience is coming to see The Audience for Helen Mirren, though, and she doesn’t disappoint, delivering excellent one-liners with a resigned irony of which one expects the real-life Windsors to be incapable. The performance is the standout in a crowd-pleaser of a show which is always entertaining and never demanding, and occasionally pretty moving.