There is a sort of unintentional impracticality to presenting a dramaturgical narrative that focuses on the heavily romanticized (and even fetishized, to some extent) monarchical dynasty of the United Kingdom. More specifically, a narrative focusing on the emblematically stodgy and seemingly cantankerous Queen Elizabeth II seems like an almost esoteric subject, ossified by her crusty austerity and connection to the monolithic, pristine regime. Theatrical or cinematic pieces—like, say, The King’s Speech—while masterfully crafted, bear traces of being out of touch, particularly in intensely heated socio-political climates. Chronicling and dramatizing nuances and details of a royal family so entrenched in traditions steeped in Victorian sensibilities seems superfluously fey.
And yet, in Little Lake Theatre’s recent production of The Audience—originally penned by Peter Morgan, with, appropriately, Helen Mirren as the envisioned Elizabeth II—the inherent austerity and stodginess of the British monarchical family is upstaged by the exquisitely sensitive construction of characters and plot, and artful commitments to the archetypal, historicized figures that lead the very dialogue-centric action of the play. The Audience is a play that thrives on the intimacies and intricacies of private conversations and self-introspection manifested through intensive interactions and distorted self-perceptions. Thus, the play is one which relies heavily on the elemental design of the stage and the impassioned immersion of the actors to their characters. In terms of setting, Little Lake is a theatre—that houses a company who wisely and meticulously selects productions that behoove the innovatively in-the-round structure of the company’s space—that commands attention through its circular structure and unique seating. To complement this, the actual set design for The Audience, while minimalist, is appropriate and befitting for the degree of inwardness that dictates the story.
As an audience, we are visually connected throughout most of the play to Queen Elizabeth II’s “office” (and/or bedchambers), which is the center of not only Elizabeth’s professional and intimate dialogues with various members of British government and parliament, but is also the externalization of her memories, fears, anguishes and need for composure. In addition to the smartly structured stage, the performance of Allison Cahill as Elizabeth is the appropriate balance of muted self-awareness, quieted rage at the anticipatory nature of her queenly demureness, and sly snarkiness. Cahill manages to fill the space and manipulate it to be an extension of her performance. More specifically, Cahill introduces the cracks in Elizabeth’s demeanor with the right amount of suddenness to convey the difficulty of Elizabeth’s aura. Additionally, the array of actors ensembled to play the various Prime Ministers and other dignitaries—like Thatcher, Blair and others—channel the proper characteristics to pique, endear or vex Elizabeth at various moments in time and personal development, all of which Cahill presents masterfully. While the stage movements and accents could be a bit clunky, the eloquence of the portrayal of the complexities of Elizabeth exceeded expectations.
Though the play is moored by the seeming irrelevance of British monarchy in a time of furious politics and international relations, Little Lakes thoughtful presentation elevates the play a well-done examination of human interactions and introspections. The Audience carries on Little Lake’s tradition of sensitively crafted theatrical pieces that defy expectations.
The Audience plays on the Little Lake stage through August 26. For tickets and more information, click here.
Photos courtesy of James Orr.