Thursday 2 February 2017

Loving HMQEII is the object of The Audience
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together. 
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  Queen to princess. Mother to daughter. That's a wee slice of the fun being dished out by The Audience at ACT's Stanley theatre. Mom Anna Galvin plays Queen Elizabeth II while her daughter Bianca Sanchez Galvin plays young Elizabeth. They banter back-&-forth like bosom buddies in a story that skips desultorily among various years across six decades of Elizabeth's monarchy. 

Weekly the Queen has an audience with UK's Prime Minister, who with Teresa May's appointment now number 13 since she was crowned in 1952. The eponymous play imagines a swack of those dialogues performed in leapfrog order to-&-fro, not chronologically. The serial skits and bits of political burlesque on show are linked by the Queen's Equerry (Bernard Cuffling) who stitches together a connecting narrative and descriptive thread of this UK history.

How it's all put together : In his seminal 19th century text The English Constitution, essayist Walter Bagehot maintained the role of monarchy vis-a-vis 10 Downing Street was limited to three interactive functions : to be consulted; to advise; to warn. The weekly sessions between Queen and her PMs were all unrecorded by either pen or wire, so playwright Morgan has had to imagine the discussions that took place -- piece them together from juicy gossips in the media or simply invent them from reports circulating about the events and exigencies of the times, e.g. Anthony Eden's fateful 1956 Suez Crisis compared with Tony Blair's Iraq War farrago of 2003 and beyond.

Given the Queen's audiences with her PMs were unminuted, how can anyone manage to create a proper dramatic arc from these sessions? Director Sarah Rodgers credits her parents' cache -- five musty storage boxes brimful of Majesty Magazine -- with providing her her "research material" (no doubt a hodgepodge of facts, factoids, fake news and post-truths from back in the day same as the daily fare we get now). 

Rodgers says Morgan's script "...humanizes the Queen and her Prime Ministers. It gives us a sweet view into the weekly audiences with her PMs, revealing a darling, witty, candid, enduring Queen...riddled with self-doubt, insecurities, self-deprecating humour, and at times great vulnerability."

Production values high-lighted on stage : Director Rodgers' description of how QEII is depicted in this version of The Audience is accurate. And, it should be noted, it precedes Peter Morgan's Netflix bingeworthy serial The Crown that tells the queen's tale chronologically.  A logical question arises : why try to sell on stage in 2017 a storyline captured just last year on film with all the camera trickery available in that fast-paced medium? 

The truth lies, implicitly, in a comparator and analogous question : why would any live theatre company attempt to stage Romeo & Juliet ever again -- now almost 50 years on -- given the iconic and inimitable Franco Zeffirelli 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting? And the answer is Because...!

Another question arises. Is it possible the Rodgers interpretation of Elizabeth is not just magnified but possibly as distorted as a traveling carny hall of mirrors? See Addendum #1 below describing the annus horribilis that Elizabeth mentioned in her 1992 Christmas address. All that melodrama in her life that year and the odd Latin expression is the only crack in the mirror that the public could peek through back then. In The Audience, meanwhile, Morgan has the queen snipe sarcastically at her equerry who fretted about her having the flu : "I'm fine. Now scram!" Hmnnn.

Still, maybe it's just the same impulse that back in the 60's impelled The Beatles to describe QEII as they did in Addendum #2 -- call it poetic license or whim -- that brought Morgan to those lines.

Fact is these are parlous and perilous times we live in. Which create a need in many of us for some continuity and reassurance from a perch "above the fray". The Audience provides just that whether the "real" Elizabeth is somewhat more or somewhat less of the interpretation the Morgan / Rodgers / Galvins' group give to her. 

The 90% full-house on opening night gave the production a 75% standing ovation, and this reviewer interpreted the standees as sincere and heartfelt, not knee-jerk pop-ups as so often happens at Vancouver playhouses. 

Specific on-stage kudos to Set Designer Alison Green and Costume Designer Christine Reimer in cahoots with Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe to create an inviting and engaging milieux -- the duck-egg blue Private Audience Room of Buckingham Palace. 

For their part, all the PM costumes were designed nicely to match their various personalities. Best mapping of outfits, not surprisingly, were the threads for the queen, from her sumptuous ermine coronation cape to her Balmoral funky headscarves and jodhpurs. 

Acting pin-spots : As the script tells it, the typically inscrutable Queen had a particular soft spot in her heart for Labour's Harold Wilson (David Marr) -- 1964-1970 \ 1974-1976. Their exchange to kick off Act II where he praises her as a woman "of the people" -- and then he, an Oxford don, rattles off pi from memory to 66 places -- this was just a choice imagining and rendering of a relationship. Using her words, this was not just a "friendly" cameraderie but as close to "friendship" toward any PM she might have been capable of.

For its part, the Galvin / Galvin mother-daughter casting was inspired. Anna and Bianca truly sounded like persons with shared DNA in their gestures and Brit accents and sly double-takes. Their closing scene quite grabbed. Princess Lizzie felt scrunched and sequestered and squelched personally due to the demands of her public role. Queen Elizabeth assures her this is necessary and for a higher purpose for the benefit of their people.

Personally I quite liked Tom McBeath's characterization of PM Gordon Brown (2007-2010). But a Brit friend told me at intermission he felt McBeath betrayed 100% more personality than Brown ever had, lol. Heading home, my wife and I quickly agreed that as "Iron Lady" Maggie Thatcher, Erin Ormond stormed into the blue room with just the right indignance, wig, overbite, and head-cock. A real prickle, she. 

Meanwhile quite a visual relief to see Winston Churchill (Joel Wirkunnen) step forth much closer to Winnie's 5-foot 5-inch frame than the visually off-putting 6-foot 4-inch giant John Lithgow in The Crown. Wirkunnen's turn in the ACT stage role part -- albeit curiously absent WC's omnipresent cigar and intravenous cognac -- brought forth a man as gruff and bullying and garrulous and charming as one imagines the farty Old Warrior to have been.

Who gonna like :  Not surprisingly, probably, George Orwell's 1949 fiendish and diabolic novel 1984 has sold out this past month on Amazon; for its part publisher Penguin has ordered up 75,000 new prints. In such a world a cuddly fuzzy-bear Queen Elizabeth (91 on April 21st) is probably just what the good Dr. Seuss would prescribe to comfort and reassure his patients. 

And while I may be a bit skeptical that Elizabeth Windsor in fact possesses all the engaging and captivating personality traits Sarah Rodgers draws out of her character, it doesn't matter a tinker's dam. 

The Audience delivers to viewers not just a figurehead, but a real and genuine person. She convinces us that at heart she's just a gal whose favourite spot on earth is the Balmoral country estate where she can roughhouse with her Corgis. Nothing gives her more pleasure than to share good cheer over the muddy faces and knickers her kids and grandkids traipse into the pantry after a day outdoors in Scotland's August rain. This is charming theatre that strikes viewers, refreshingly, as not just accurate but true. Memorable, fetching stuff  in a time when it's sorely needed.

Particulars :  Script by Peter Morgan [scriptwriter of 2006 film The Queen plus the current Netflix series The Crown]. Produced by Arts Club Theatre.  At the Stanley Theatre, 11th Avenue at Granville. On until February 26, 2017. Run-time 140 minutes, including 20 minute intermission. Tickets & schedule information via or by phoning ACBO @ 604.687.1644.  

Production team :  Director Sarah Rodgers.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Christine Reimer.  Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe.  Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.  Assistant Director Ashley O'Connell. Assistant Stage Manager Allison Spearin.  Corgi Wrangler Caitlin McFarlane.

Performers :  Chris Britton (Anthony Eden).  Ted Colember (John Major).  Bernard Cuffling (Equerry).  Alen Dominguez (Footman).  Anna Galvin (Queen Elizabeth II).  Bianca Sanchez Galvin (Young Elizabeth).  Mike Gill (Footman).  Jay Hindle (Tony Blair; David Cameron).  Brian Linds (Bishop; Detective).  David Marr (Harold Wilson).  Tom McBeath (Gordon Brown).  Melissa Oei (Bobo MacDonald).  Erin Ormond (Margaret Thatcher).  Joel Wirkkunen (Winston Churchill).

Addendum #1 from Wikipedia :
The phrase annus horribilis was used in 1891 to describe 1870, the year in which the Roman Catholic church defined the dogma of papal infallibility;[1] but it was brought to prominence by Queen Elizabeth II in a speech to Guildhall on 24 November 1992, marking the 40th anniversary of her accession, in which she described the year as an annus horribilis.[2]

"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis."

The "sympathetic correspondent" was later revealed to be her former assistant private secretary, Sir Edward Ford. The unpleasant events which happened to the Royal Family in this year include:
Following the Guildhall speech:

Addendum #2  from "" :
Her Majesty
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl,
But she doesn't have a lot to say
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl
But she changes from day to day
I want to tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a bellyful of wine
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl
Someday I'm going to make her mine, oh yeah,
Someday I'm going to make her mine.
Songwriters: John Lennon / John Winston Lennon / Paul Mccartney / Paul James Mccartney
Her Majesty lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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