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Reelin' In the Years - The Audience

As you know, on Friday, April 9th the sad news arrived of HRH Prince Philip’s passing. He lived a very long and fascinating life, and he was fortunate enough to spend it with a woman who is equally fascinating and with whom he shared an enduring love. But his passing is still a shock, as the passing of anyone we have known for so long is always unexpected and painful.

And that’s the truth about people like Prince Philip whose lives are lived publicly and in service to an entire nation — a commonwealth of nations, to be precise, when it comes to the British royal family. We feel we know these public figures because we see them and hear about them our entire lives.

Leaders and royalty have played a major role in storytelling, and in particular theatre, since the beginning of civilization. Think about the earliest dramatic texts of Western theatre: they were the stories of the kings and queens of ancient Greece. Through these stories, some of them mythical, Aeschelus, Sophocles and Euripides were able to explore both the joys and tragedies, the triumphs and foibles, the pride and hubris of all human lives, not just those of royalty. Similarly, Shakespeare mined the history of British royalty to shed light on relationships between men and women, parents and children, leaders and followers.

In our time, the Windsors have provided us with enough drama to fill all our days — at least during this pandemic, when the many seasons of The Crown have made for compelling viewing, keeping us safe at home in front of our screens.

The creator of The Crown, Peter Morgan, has made a career of dramatizing the drama of the Windsors. Before The Crown, there was the 2006 film The Queen. That spawned The Audience, a play about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and her relationships with her Prime Ministers. It premiered in London in 2013 and had its Canadian premiere at the Royal Alex in 2017 in a production starring Fiona Reid.

It’s fair to say that Peter Morgan has single-handedly made the Windsors more human and more famous that they ever were. He has elevated them to the realm of the mythical, and at the same time made them as ordinary as the denizens of Coronation Street, which has reigned as the most popular soap opera almost as long as Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne.

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