Helen Mirren, who starred in the 2006 film “The Queen,” is once again playing Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s intriguing and insightful drama “The Audience,” which comes to Broadway after a hit London run, in a focused production directed by Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot,” the upcoming revival of “Skylight”).
Whereas “The Queen” depicted Her Majesty immediately following the death of Princess Diana, “The Audience” examines her cordial but complicated relationships with virtually all of the British prime ministers that have been in office from her accession in the early 1950s to the present day – such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron.
Jumping back and forth in chronology, it takes place during the private chats that place once a week between the Queen and the prime minister at Buckingham Palace. The Queen’s younger self also materializes in between scenes, along with footmen, dressers and other staff members.
No doubt sensing that American audiences may be unfamiliar with English politics, a very useful guide has been inserted into the playbills to provide a short introduction to each prime minister.
With its nonlinear format, the play was bound to be choppy. Some scenes are more dramatically charged than others, and some characters are more fully developed. There is also no overall conflict or plot. But taken as a whole, “The Audience” is a fascinating meditation on the historic and present day role of the English monarch.
Mirren, whose recent film credits include “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “Hitchcock,” capably handles the challenging role, constantly altering her appearance while conveying the Queen’s firm respect for tradition, a sympathetic ear and a witty sense of humor.
If you go: “The Audience” plays at the Schenfeld Theatre through June 28. 236 W. 45th St. theaudiencebroadway.com.