The format of this play is series of conversations – audiences – between Queen Elizabeth and a number of her Prime Ministers, broken at times by commentary by Her Majesty and her Equerry, and the occasional presence of the Queen’s youthful self. It’s a play which is at times seriously social and political, yet has elements of genuine humour.
The structure can appear a little fragmented, even revue-like, but in general Director Ben Todd’s cast maintained the pace and interest. What held it together was the continuing narrative and character thread provided by Rebecca Kemp as the Queen. She conversed with a variety of PMs from Churchill to Cameron, – not always in chronological order – and in doing so showed her character’s attitudes during the early, middle and later years of her long reign. She managed that very well, changing age and maturity throughout, along with carefully conducted costume changes, mostly on stage during others’ monologues. There were some fascinating insights and observations through the course of the play. While we are familiar with the public personas of all of the major characters, we are asked by the playwright, Peter Morgan, to accept occasional divergences from them. Without the solidity of Kemp’s performance that could have led to caricatures, and indeed there were occasional hints of that, even so.
Lance Jones as the Equerry provided a comforting and articulate narration through the course of the action, including all-too-believable detailed descriptions of the furnishings of the scenes. Continuity came also from the visits of the young Elizabeth, well portrayed by Zara Blight, who was important in questioning her older self about attitudes and her sense of purpose as the monarch.
Among the Prime Ministers, Greg Janzow was convincingly gruff and opinionated as Churchill, Brad Martin was effectively bland and self-questioning as Major and Frank Cwiertniak showed skilful versatility as both Brown and Eden. Natasha Scholey was certainly dominant as Thatcher, capturing her strident tone and character. Ben Cosford’s Cameron was believable, while his exaggerated hand gestures as Blair were a little distracting.
Paul Briske was a wonderful Harold Wilson. He was earthy, shuffling and endearing. His scenes with Kemp were the highlights of the play. They were the best written and allowed both performers to display the characters’ humanity and mutual respect. Importantly, too, they were genuinely funny and not at either character’s expense, unlike a couple of the others.
While a good part of the play is historical and could seem dated, this production largely avoided that. That is to the credit of the Director and cast. It is also, I suspect, aided by the fact that the Queen herself is still alive, and still conducting her weekly PM’s audiences and incidentally, providing currency to this piece.