My mind wanders easily in the theatre. I think it’s the fakery of the whole thing, the spare sets, the imagined actors waiting n the wings, mouthing their lines, the sound of footsteps on wood when it’s supposed to be gravel… everything, really. And then I start to drift off. Mainly I’m wondering what I’ll say to Mrs W that expresses that I’m not loving this, but pretending that I like it enough so that I don’t ruin her evening in the hope that one day she’ll come to see a musical with me which, frankly, is the only sort of theatre I can stand – probably because you’re not usually expected to take it at all seriously.
(Theatre-going friends don’t invite me any more. They have spent too many intervals sipping HOW MUCH!? gin and tonics and hearing me slag off the play that they were – up till then – quite enjoying. I don’t blame them. I’ve probably quite spoilt their night.)
So last night was just me and Mrs W at the Apollo Theatre to see Kristen Scott Thomas playing the Queen in The Audience by Peter Morgan. You’ve probably heard about it: it’s the one about the Queen and her private meetings with her Prime Ministers
It started off promisingly enough. The audience were tittering from the off. Actually, that goes for most audiences so far as I can tell. God, they’ll laugh at anything, specially if it’s Shakespeare. Last night, John Major fumbled with his hankie momentarily and there were gales of hilarity.
Honestly, it wasn’t that funny.
But then I started to get irritated. John Major would not and did not, I am absolutely certain, break down in tears in front of HM as he recalled his humble upbringing. Winston Churchill would not and did not address her by her pet name, Lilibet. Harold Wilson would not and did not adopt a cod-German accent and tease her about her family heritage. What’s more, he’s depicted as an oafish, northern chancer, overwhelmed by the grandeur of his position. He was an Oxford don, for God’s sake! These are more like comedy sketches, never more so than when Margaret Thatcher appears, in hectoring caricature, rather than in character. They should just hire Steve Nallon and be done with it.
But perhaps I’m missing the point. Perhaps this is meant to be a comedy. If so, it’s just not funny enough.
Thing is, once you start to notice things, it’s hard to stop. Anachronisms? Yup. For example, it’s 1985 and Mrs Thatcher s heading to the palace. The Sergeant-at-arms (or whoever it is) warns Her Majesty with the words, “I thought I’d give you a heads-up, ma’am.” A ‘heads-up’? In 1985?
L-R Sir Anthony Eden, Allan Cuthbertson as Col. Hall, David Robb as Dr Clarkson
The second half settles into a surer rhythm, but I was thrown off-track by the appearance of Sir Anthony Eden. Who diid he remind me of? I was convinced that the actor playing him was the same one who had played Colonel Hall in the Fawlty Towers episode ‘Gourmet Night’ (he of the tiny wife and the huge twitch), and then I realise that whoever did play Colonel Hall must be at least ninety by now, and that was me distracted for the rest of the play.
And then it came to me when I was in bed, and I woke up Mrs W to tell her, not the she expressed any gratitude. It was the doctor from Downton Abbey.
Glad I cleared that up.