by Lynn on January 31, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Audience

Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Christopher Newton
Set and costumes by Christina Poddubiuk
Lighting by Scott Henderson
Sound by John Lott
Starring Anthony Bekenn
Nigel Bennett
Evan Buliung
Benedict Campbell
Ben Carlson
Naomi Cronk
Ellen Denny
Paul Essiembre
Kate Hennig
Kevin Klassen
John B. Lowe
Bob McLaughlin
Fiona Reid
Ray Strachan
Melanie Whyte
Stefanie Wiens

A respectful, workman-like production of Peter Morgan’s play about the conversations of the Tuesday evening private audiences between Queen Elizabeth II and eight of her Prime Ministers.

For playwright Peter Morgan Queen Elizabeth II is a cottage industry. He wrote the screenplay of The Queen, wrote the play The Audience and created the television series The Crown—all dealing with Queen Elizabeth II at some point in her reign.

With The Audience, we see Queen Elizabeth II during her private Tuesday evening audiences with her various Prime Ministers. They are supposed to brief the Queen on the business of the week. She is to listen, ponder and not offer a suggestion, opinion or anything suggesting her involvement in the business. She is not to try and influence in any way, But there are very subtle ways of making her thoughts known. Peter Morgan is masterful at that.

Winston Churchill tried to influence her by telling her how those audiences were to be run. She gave him a run for his money.

John Major lamented being overlooked and forgotten. She listened patiently. Harold Wilson confessed that he really didn’t want the job but seemed to continue successfully in it.

Margaret Thatcher, ever formidable and condescending, seemed to consider the audiences an annoyance to be endured. She was equally matched but in a different way by the Queen.

The play is a fascinating look into the politics of the Queen and her Prime Ministers and how she is aware of their strengths and weaknesses and how they often try and pull a fast one on her. Silly them. Morgan has illuminated the essence of eight Prime Ministers over the Queen’s reign and done it with subtle humour and sophistication. You see how the Queen walks a fine line. It’s a masterful piece of writing.

Christopher Newton has amassed a stellar cast of some of Canada’s leading actors headed by Fiona Reid as Queen Elizabeth II. And yet for all this star-power, the production is just matter of fact, occasionally dull even.

The Queen greets the various Prime Ministers. She listens. Occasionally She looks away to make a point. She offers comment but not advice and they leave. Reid then leaves the stage to change into another costume, in mere seconds it seems, and then comes back in a different costume representing the Queen in a different time period. The meeting of the Prime Ministers is not done in chronological order which offers Reid a challenge to play the Queen at various stages of her life; youthful, nimble, older, stiff-legged etc.

In the very first scene Reid seems to have difficulty finding the voice of the Queen. It sounds high and screechy. The voice settles in subsequent scenes. The scene with Kate Hennig as Margaret Thatcher is particular enjoyable in an unsettling way. Hennig has a smile as tight as her lacquered wig and one can tell that Thatcher finds having to fill the Queen in on the business of the week, is a waste of her time. She does not hide her irritation and impatience. Terrific performance.

Designer Christina Poddubiuk’s costumes are effective in illuminating the Queen’s style and those of her Prime Ministers (Mrs. Thatcher seems awash in Chanel). And Poddubiuk’s set suggests the opulence of Buckingham Palace, but one gets the feeling the production is just connecting so many dots, as opposed to having a vibrantly painted portrait.

Mirvish Productions Presents:

Opened: Jan. 19, 2017.
Saw it: Jan. 21, 2017.
Cast: 16; 10 men, 6 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 min. approx.


At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Arun Lakra
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Set and Lighting by Jason Hand
Costumes by Joanna Wu
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Cast: Kevin Bundy
Jesse LaVercombe
Ava Jane Markus
Nancy Palk

The work examines questions of chance vs luck, sequence vs random happenings. However it’s not a play, no matter how provocative the ‘playwright’ thinks his thesis is.

Dr. Guzman is a scientist whose research asks “What comes first, the chicken or the egg.” And she has a theory of both possibilities. Mr. Adamson is a student who is wheelchair bound and comes to her with his own question. He believes he will walk again even if he medical information says no. . She has summoned him because he managed to answer every question on his exam wrong. He had a system for answering. She’s intrigued.

Theo is considered the luckiest man in the world because he has bet on the toss of the Superbowl for years and won every single time. A young woman, Cynthia, comes to him in hopes that his luck will rub off on her. She needs to know the answer to a question of chance—I won’t be more specific so as not to give it away.

Dr. Guzman and Mr. Adamson’s story and Theo and Cynthia’s story are separate but they unfold in a sequence.

Director Andrea Donaldson has created a tightly controlled production. Jason Hand’s set is spare and clinical. There are white boards on which to write formulae, unfortunately in a light blue marker that makes it hard to read. Was this deliberate? Don’t know. Donaldson has her cast of four deliver their lines almost at break-neck speed like people rattling off facts, figures and ideas without hearing what they or the other person is saying. So a hugely accomplished actor like Nancy Palk as Dr. Guzman deliberately races through her dialogue, giving it a sense of urgency, but not a sense that an actual person is saying it. Not Palk’s fault. I sense this is an idea of Donaldson. The same goes for Kevin Bundy as Theo. Almost everything about his performance is heightened unrealism. I’m sure there’s a point, I just didn’t get it.

Here’s the main problem with Sequence, it’s not a play. It’s a bantering of ideas and theories posing as a play and failing because the point is irrelevant. What comes first: the chicken or the egg? Really? Aside from philosophers, or theorists, who cares? And the dilemma regarding Theo and Cynthia is a point so small as to be negligible. And the play seems to end twice; first with a bang and then with a tacked on extra bit that ends it with a whimper.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre.

First performance: Jan. 3, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 12, 2017.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

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1 Alistair January 31, 2017 at 7:59 pm

Putting ‘playwright’ in parentheses is needlessly cruel. I didn’t love this play either, but god…imagine having such arrogance to think that you can ridicule a person like this. It’s a huge accomplishment to get a professional theatre production in Canada, and you demean it in this very petty, small way. It’s only fair that we now refer to you as ‘Critic’ Lynn Slotkin.