On February 7th, I attended Peter Morgan’s The Audience, a Theatre Calgary production directed by Miles Potter.
The design of the Max Bell Theatre gave way for an atmosphere where the audience became a “fly on the wall”, taking in the exclusive meetings between Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister. The angle of the seats, all toward the center of the stage, emphasized the privacy of the meetings. Max Bell, a proscenium theater with wrap-around seating on all three levels, gave audience members a glimpse into all angles of the production. When the curtain lifted, the proscenium arch framing the stage gave a sense of exclusion, creating a fourth wall between the actors and the audience. In this instance, the proscenium fit very well with the privacy of the Queen’s gatherings.
As the timestamp of the play alternated between Elizabeth’s youth as she ascended the throne at age 25 and her current age of 90, two actresses were required to play the sovereign. Actress, Seana McKenna, did an astounding job of introducing minute subtleties to reflect the aging Queen throughout the play. Specifically, the actress developed a slight limp, shifted uncomfortably in her wing-backed chair, and had a slower pace of speech to subtly convey her age. However, it was the Queen’s makeup and exquisite wigs that ultimately ensured McKenna succeed in the challenge of depicting four decades. Later in the play, her shorter, greying hair were reminiscent of the tolls that age has on the body. Similarly, the authoritative figure of the Queen was bolstered by extravagant furs and lavish robes.
The set of the action was topped with an elaborate, golden chandelier that exuded royalty. While the scene took place at Buckingham Palace, the two high-backed chairs at centre-stage were constants among the drama. The tall, vaulted ceilings decorated with ornate scaffolding transported the audience into the throws of London’s affluence, but also created a sense of loneliness at the aging woman in a sedentary palace. However, the change of scenery to Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s summer residence in Scotland, was accompanied by a change to deep coloured walls and plush carpets that brought about a more relaxed and content atmosphere. The lack of special effects, aside from a constant white light, added to the sensory experience by providing a realistic setting. Rather than being solely focused on the actor delivering his/her lines, the wide-panning light brought the audience’s focus to all details of the stage, including the exquisite setting.
The performance decisions for how the cast delivered their lines produced a feeling of reality, giving the audience a glimpse into the real-world conversations between parliament and the monarch. Delivering their lines to each other, rather than directed at the audience, gave a convincing rendition on what these meeting would have potentially looked like to an outsider.
As the all-powerful director of a modern-day rendition of Euripides’s Medea, the factors previously reviewed have influenced my decisions on the proposed theatrical performance. As in The Audience, the proscenium stage would also be utilized; however, for a different purpose. In this instance, the framing arch would serve to figuratively separate the audience from the action, and temporarily suspend their disbelief at the horror of infanticide. Furthermore, some seating in the depressed region would be removed for the chorus women to integrate themselves directly into the audience, as their role is to provide the objective view of the people.
To perform in Medea, the actress cast to play the protagonist would be Rosamund Pike. Having already played the role of spiteful, manipulative wife after wrongdoings by her husband in Gone Girl, Pike would be well prepared to take on a similar character who the audience could empathize with, rather than resent, despite the horrific circumstances.
The performative direction given to the actors would be to deliver their lines directed specifically at one another, rather than break the fourth wall. Like in The Audience, this will be integral in suspending the disbelief of the audience. However, more importance will be placed on the manner that Medea recites her lines: it is vital for her agony from Jason’s mistreatment and her perplexity on the mechanism of revenge to be evident in her speech to gain the audience’s empathy.
In comparison to the setting of Buckingham Palace, the physical materials required to perform Medea, will be less elaborate. Whereas intricate means were needed to depict the Queen’s home, the proposed set design will only require a mobile set of stairs for the entrance of Creon, and a removable house-front for scenes that require separation between the inside and outside of a building. The lack of fanciful stage lighting and effects made The Audience more enjoyable because as a viewer, my attention was focused solely on the action taking place. Although a similar idea will be used for the interpretation of Medea, traditional Greek music will be employed for the entrance of Creon to pay homage to the Hellenic origin of the script.
Unlike the 65-year duration of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the narrative of Medea only occurs over a short time interval. Medea, dressed in white to convey her purity and righteousness, will not undergo any elaborate costume changes as there is no need to depict any change in chronology as there was in The Audience. However, she will have dark, intense make-up and flowing, burgundy hair to emphasize her foreign upbringing.
The chronological arrangement of Morgan’s The Audience was difficult to follow and required numerous costume changes to keep up with the fluctuating eras. These directorial decisions by Potter in The Audience had a definite impact on my rendition of Medea. For simplicity, I plan to retain the traditional order of events, as written by Euripides. However, to modernize the conclusion of the play, the curtain will fall following Jason’s realization at the fate of his children, cutting out the Deus-ex-Machina exit of Medea.