You wait and wait to catch a dame and then two come along at once. Typical! Here in Theatreland nothing quite creates a theatresizzle like a show that you know is going to be unmissable. Anyone with years of stunning performances on both stage and screen usually guarantees that a West End outing will deliver the goods. Pedigrees don't come much greater than Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench, both of whom have impending London shows opening.
Having already scored excellent word-of-mouth from its previews, Helen Mirren's latest show The Audience is due to have its press night at the Gielgud Theatre tonight and looks set to impress. In it she once again portrays Queen Elizabeth II, after the numerous plaudits she received for her turn in Stephen Frears' 2006 film The Queen. Her turn led to numerous awards including best actress statuettes from BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the Oscars. This will be the world premiere of Peter Morgan's play, directed by Stephen Daldry.
In it we see fictionalised accounts of what could have occured in the weekly meetings that Queen Elizabeth undertakes with her current Prime Minister. The Queen has had these clandestine one-on-one meetings once a week behind closed doors in Buckingham Palace for the last 60 years, with no less than 12 British Prime Ministers. Both parties are sworn to secrecy, not even repeating their contents to their own spouses. The play explores what could have been said between HRH and a selection of Prime Ministers, from Churchill to Cameron.
Mirren will be joined onstage by Michael Elwyn as Anthony Eden, Nathaniel Parker as Gordon Brown, Rufus Wright as David Cameron, Haydn Gwynne as Margaret Thatcher, Edward Fox as Winston Churchill and Paul Ritter as John Major. Director Stephen Daldry's West End credits include Billy Elliot and An Inspector Calls. Helen Mirren is the only actress to have played both Queen Elizabeth's on screen, having portrayed Elizabeth I in the 2005 tv series of the same name. She is well known for her tv role as police detective Jane Tennison in seven series of Prime Suspect and film roles include Calendar Girls, Gosford Park and RED. Her most recent appearance on the West End stage was in the tragic title role Phedre at the National Theatre in 2009.
Hot on Dame Helen's heels is Dame Judi Dench, whose next London appearance will begin previews later this week on the 9th March. She will be reunited opposite her Skyfall co-star Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre. The show marks the second production in the Michael Grandage Company's inaugural season of five plays at the venue which began with Privates On Parade last December. Written by John Logan, the 1930s-set play explores a chance meeting between the original inspirations for Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland at a Lewis Carroll exhibition.
Judi Dench has played M in all of the Bond films from 1995's Goldeneye to last year's Skyfall. She has won eleven BAFTAs and seven Laurence Olivier Awards as well as an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for less than eight minutes screentime in 1999's Shakespeare In Love. Other film roles include Iris, Notes On A Scandal, Mrs Henderson Requests and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
One thing for certain is that these two critic and audience-baiting plays are widely perceived as West End must-see shows. Demand for both has been phenomenally high and those lucky enough to have snagged a ticket are undoubtedly in for a treat.
The Audience is playing until 15th June whilst Peter and Alice will play a limited run at the Noel Coward Theatre until 1st of that month.
Book The Audience tickets and Peter and Alice tickets now