Queen Elizabeth II is a bit of an enigma. As a rule, she must remain neutral on all political matters and, therefore, refrains from much public comment. Aside from her hilarious airborne arrival at the 2012 London Olympics, she’s revealed very little of her personality. Except for her fondness for corgis. She really loves her corgis
Peter Morgan’s The Audience, onstage at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through November 6, opens the doors to Buckingham Palace for a meeting with the queen, or, at least, a fictionalized version of her. First produced in the West End in 2013, The Audience revolves around Queen Elizabeth’s weekly meetings with the United Kingdom’s prime ministers, highlighting most of the 13 PMs that have served during her 64-year reign. It’s a simple concept with lots of potential, and the Maltz turns that potential into a thought-provoking portrait of a very private public figure.
|Colin McPhillamy as Winston Churchill and Karen MacDonald as Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Photo by Alicia Donelan|
The chime of Big Ben signals the start of the play, bringing into focus a stark black stage layered with opulent chandeliers. An equerry (Gabriel Zenone) enters, explains that these weekly meetings are “a courtesy, not an obligation,” and then describes the room—in great detail. The stage gains chairs but not much else, so it’s up you to imagine the rest of the room.
Much like the rest of the play, these strokes are enough to fill in the full picture. While we only see snapshots of Queen Elizabeth (Karen MacDonald), they sufficiently highlight key points of her identity, such as her even temper, perspicacity, and strength. We even get a glimpse of her gradual acceptance of her lot of life through flashbacks to her younger self, played by Jupiter native Skye Alyssa Friedman.
|Karen MacDonald as Queen Elizabeth II and Skye Alyssa Friedman as Young Elizabeth in The Audience at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Photo by Alicia Donelan|
MacDonald is tasked with portraying a woman over 60 years. Aided by excellent wigs by Gerard Kelly and costumes by Wade Laboissonniere, MacDonald inhabits every age with distinct variations of grace. As a 20-something newly crowned queen, she stands tall to her first PM, Winston Churchill (Colin McPhillamy). As a middle-aged monarch she butts heads with Margaret Thatcher (Henny Russell) and counsels John Major (Mark H. Dold) to stay strong when faced with criticism. As an icon nearing 90, she stresses diplomacy to David Cameron (Peter Simon Hilton). Each iteration fleshes out different sides of Elizabeth and gives MacDonald myriad ways to shine.
Her favorite Prime Minister, at least according to the play, was Harold Wilson, played by the magnificent Rod McLachlan. A Broadway veteran, McLachlan is no stranger to The Audience, having previously performed in the NYC production as Gordon Brown. His portrayal of Wilson is charming, highlighting the character’s folksy roots and baffling intelligence.
|Rod McLachlan as Harold Wilson and Karen MacDonald as Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Photo by Alicia Donelan|
In The Audience, the young Elizabeth struggles with life in the palace while the grown queen laments that she doesn’t wish to be known. Of course, a swanky estate and notoriety are part and parcel of the job. But the Maltz’s stellar production does a fine job of balancing these inner struggles with the even-keeled persona she presents to her prime ministers, resulting in a textured play that is as informative as it is touching.
If you go: The Audience, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Jupiter, to November 6.