Review Roundup: Kristin Scott Thomas Leads THE AUDIENCE in the West End

Kristin Scott Thomas plays the Queen in a new and updated version of Peter Morgan's The Audience. Stephen Daldry's production opens tonight, May 5, at the Apollo Theatre.

Joining Thomas are David Calder as Winston Churchill, Mark Dexter as David Cameron and Tony Blair, Michael Gould as John Major, Gordon Kennedy as Gordon Brown, Sylvestra Le Touzel as Margaret Thatcher, David Robb as Anthony Eden and Nicholas Woodeson as Harold Wilson. David Peartplays the Equerry, Charlotte Moore plays Bobo MacDonald and Private Secretary, Marnie Brighton, Madeleine Jackson Smith and Izzy Meikle-Small alternate in the role of Young Elizabeth and Matt Plumb and Harry Feltham play the footmen.

The Audience has designs by Bob Crowley, with lighting by Rick Fisher, sound by Paul Arditti and music by Paul Englishby.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: ...this revamped version of Peter Morgan's enthralling and royally entertaining (albeit at times too flippantly light-hearted) play about the weekly briefing meetings that take place between the Queen and her Prime Minister could hardly be more up-to-date...And, of course, the inherent, delightful point of The Audience is that it's a work of manifest fiction...Elegant Dame Kristin easily holds her own against the gilded memory of Dame Helen Mirren...Her Elizabeth is taller than the monarch, and more icily "regal"; the actress implies that the Queen takes a certain enjoyment at the discomfort she can cause with a telling, reproving silence or too-pained diplomatic smile. If one thesis of the evening is that she has served as a safety-valve for prime-ministerial pressure, it's overly insinuated that she also toys with that tension. The play is still a rewrite short of bejewelled perfection; recent alterations haven't helped, not least a crude counterpoint between Iraq-era Tony Blair and a Suez-beset Anthony Eden. Too much is made of the Queen's fondness for Harold Wilson; the loaded caricature of Mrs Thatcher (Sylvestra Le Touzel, subtle-as-concrete) remains; and did we have to lose Jim Callaghan?...Like this remarkable reign itself, The Audience remains a work-in-progress.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: Scott Thomas gives a highly accomplished performance that veers between mischievous irony and icy hauteur, but without quite convincing us of the Queen's ability to act as a therapeutic counsellor to her disturbed premiers...Scott Thomas is excellent when the play gives her a chance to break protocol and argue with her prime ministers. I was less persuaded by the moments when we see the Queen's vulnerability or capacity to cheer up her nerve-wracked ministers. The weakest scenes are those that show her confrontations with Harold Wilson, who is long overdue for dramatic rehabilitation...Among the other prime ministers, there is good work from David Calder as a growly, jowly Churchill, Gordon Kennedy as a twitchy Gordon Brown and Sylvestra Le Touzel as a furious Mrs Thatcher...Stephen Daldry's production is also well-organised, and ends the first act on a newly created moment of pageantry. But although the play is entertaining enough, it has less to say about monarchy than Mike Bartlett's King Charles III, and reveals a disdain for elected politicians that I, for one, cannot share.

Holly Williams, The Independent: Scott Thomas is certainly regal: elegant, refined, chin lifted and nose looked down. This is a rather arch interpretation; the slightest pursing of lips may suggest one is amused, or deeply disapproving. She glides smooth and cool as marble through on-stage costume changes and time-shifts. Looks-wise, it's not the most natural fit - Scott Thomas is just glamorous in a way even twinsuits over fatsuits for the later years can't hide - but her slicing comic subtlety is a treat. Daldry's direction is crisp, each short scene with each prime minister fully-realised, while also ricocheting off one another with precision...The cast are good all round: Gordon Kennedy's lumbering Gordon Brown almost gets a round of applause he's so familiar. And he's not the only PM wracked with self-loathing. Almost all have their nerves, ticks and insecurities, put to good comic effect, but ultimately imbuing the show with compassion.

Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail: Adopting airs she perhaps thought regal, Dame Kristin...tried to bar the Daily Mail from yesterday's Press night...Undeterred by last night's attempted ban...I managed to buy one of the cheaper tickets in the gods at the Apollo...How was the play? Pretty good. Nicholas Woodeson's Harold Wilson and Gordon Kennedy's Gordon Brown nearly steal the show (as do a couple of royal dogs)...these are decent reasons to see a show that has matured like a vintage port and has even been given a couple of topical tweaks...And how is Her Majesty Queen Kristin? She stumbled on a few lines and hashed a cue. Her vocal tone can be leaden yet her mannerisms, paradoxically, are overdone...This is a Queen who can sound sneery and who does not command the stage. She telegraphs jokes too much. In a rare imparted confidence, she leans over and bites her lip. No! Just wrong...The Audience would do perfectly well without Dame Kristin.

Mark Shenton, The Stage: ...there's something less warmly convincing and convivial than Mirren managed to achieve. At times, she's a bit panto dame Queen, with a lot of tilted-head-and-quizzical-looks acting. She was also hesitant about her lines on the night I saw the performance. Fortunately, however, Morgan's play still reaches the parts that Thomas doesn't...It is Morgan's brilliant ruse to provide an entirely imagined, but eerily plausible, account of what might have been said behind closed doors in the Queen's weekly meetings with eight of the 12 prime ministers that have served under her reign (so far)...These include fond encounters with Harold Wilson (a scene-stealing Nicholas Woodeson), a perplexed, under-educated John Major (Michael Gould), and the depression-prone Gordon Brown (Gordon Kennedy)...complete with two live corgis, this is a perfect West End hit.

Marianka Swain, Elegantly languorous Scott Thomas is less of a physical match than her predecessor, who embodied the straitjacket of duty, and doesn't quite equal Mirren's extraordinarily precise vocal gradations, but her arch comic delivery adds spice to the waspish putdowns. She excels in moments of wistful yearning, stressing Morgan's contention that ours is a gracefully reluctant ruler, in contrast to the stream of power-hungry politicos...Love-struck Morgan also seems unwilling to suggest fallibility; with right royal hindsight, Liz is on the winning side of every issue...Making the most of their sketch-like cameos are David Calder as Churchill, battling to stay relevant; Michael Gould's beleaguered, blubbering Major, unsuccessfully applying Serbian diplomacy strategies to Charles and Diana's marriage; Gordon Kennedy's instantly recognisable hangdog Brown; David Robb's sly, twitching Eden; and -- in a neat bit of casting -- Mark Dexter as two interchangeably bland modern PMs: toothy Blair and vapid Cameron. Sylvestra Le Touzel is limited by a one-dimensionally villainous depiction of Thatcher, but Nicholas Woodeson is a joy as impish Wilson...His deterioration is quietly moving.

Dominic Maxwell, The Times: It takes right-royal nerve to replace Helen Mirren in one of her most celebrated roles, yet Kristin Scott Thomas pulls it off. Though she is 15 years Mirren's junior, she proves every bit as fascinating as the Queen in this top-notch revival.

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Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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