There they are—Prime Minister John Major and Queen Elizabeth during their weekly “audience”, where he, like all the Prime Ministers before and after him during her reign, give Her Majesty a quick update on her realm’s happenings. His administration is wracked by sex scandals and he is belly aching that he just so wanted nothing more than to be “ordinary”. And then the Queen interrupts to ask (paraphrasing) “and how have you been disappointed in this regards?”
There it is— the British wry humor we so love and coming from no less than the Queen. Or rather, coming from the imagination of playwright Peter Morgan, who has made royalty come alive in film and stage- as well as Nixon, Idi Amin, among others. Anyone trying to bump Morgan from the Queen’s Fan #1 spot would seem to have a difficult task.
Timeline Theatre Company Brings History Alive, As Always
There actually was no fly on the wall or recorder in this or any other audience with the Queen. Morgan though, steeps us in history—with perhaps some added layers of exposition for our wee American minds—painting a picture of how curious the human experience is when you are a royal. We first experience this royal predicament meeting Elizabeth as a child (played on opening night by adorable Audrey Edwards, with spot-on accent and more than a passing physical resemblance to the photos of the Queen as a tot). And, we also meet Queen Liz as a young wife impatient for her coronation, downing drinks during her Annus Horribilus, and later getting frustrated when the cellphone her grandsons gave her starts playing Psy’s Gangnam Style. We also spy her soul when she falls to her knees to pray to that mastermind of the divine right of kings and queens, though most of Britain is now too secular to brook THAT kinda talk.
Janet Ulrich Brooks’ performance as this Queen Elizabeth II through the decades animates The Audience with both gravitas and sizzle. Every line is delivered with measure befitting the royal she portrays. Her eyes widen or narrow as a thermometer of sorts, registering the import of each historic moment. Brooks and Morgan give us a Queen who is downright lovable.
If you too are the kind of theater junkie that will always get a thrill from watching super talented actors morph seamlessly into multiple characters you will also find much of that here too. Matt DeCaro gives us a totally plausible Winston Churchill, Tony Blair and then a heart- rending portrayal of photographic memory-abled Harold Wilson being brought down by Alzheimers. Mark Ulrich gives us equally compelling portrayals of John Major, Gordon Brown, Anthony Eden and David Cameron. Though her parts are smaller, the shift that Carmen Roman does from the Scottish nanny with bottomless love to the heartless Margaret Thatcher is quite memorable. And it you think it just isn’t British without the classic Jeeves-like Butler, have no fear— David Lively lets us check that prerequisite off the list too.
When Princess Diana died, this writer—not a big fan of royalty paparazzi driven fascinations— was quite amazed at the 24/7 cable news focus on the grief across America. Morgan’s pen may be fandom-fueled but it’s not the dazzling crown jewels or glamour that seems to enthrall him. Rather, this is a substantial serving of history—albeit fandom feeling a bit more than many—most?—other works of historical fiction.
Top Pick for History Lovers
Timeline adds to the experience with well-done museum displays in the lobby that is well worth a linger.
You will also receive a quick read program insert summarizing key historic moments recapped in the script. It’s likely that you will want to treasure the program anew the day after you see the play remembering too the absolutely inspired way they handle the bows. Spoiler Hint—think rock music.
If you adore historical fiction or are a history buff--- The Audience should likely be your top pick for a night out on the town.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru November 12.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 p.m. (except 8/26) and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m
Timeline Theatre Company at Wellington United Church of Christ
615 W. Wellington Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657