Prune and Helen Mirren in The Audience

Pilgrimage to Prune
Located near the Bowery in a vintage storefront, restaurant Prune is known for the haute cuisine of bone marrows served with little spoons and classic simplicity of perfect radishes with butter and salt. Prune has a number of signature fruit juice cocktails, a small bar tucked in the corner, and only thirty seats.

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who wrote the brilliant memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, is great at textures. The duck on grilled watercress is crispy. Rhubarb crisp is crunchy. Salmon is baked just until it’s flaky. Homemade tofu served warm, with edamame, is silky. The wait staff is down-to-earth. They don’t act like they work in a cult restaurant often billed among foodies as a religious experience.

Its weekend brunch is famous. It’s not, however, a great pre-theatre restaurant. Theatre Row has to judge eating establishments on their snappiness and ability to get us to the box office on time. Prune is about slow food—but they’ll wrap up that dessert or main course you didn’t get a chance to dig your little spoon into.

Helen Mirren in The Audience

For sixty years Queen Elizabeth II has had tea with twelve prime ministers on a weekly basis, through every kind of crisis. Most of the PMs are depicted in The Audience, including a totally unsympathetic Margaret Thatcher (as played by Haydn Gwynne), whom the Queen met with over a hundred times, in rooms that look chilly and cold. The one at Buckingham Palace is described in full by a footman, including the reupholstery of the chairs. The Balmoral set includes tartan, a glowing heater, and the misty mountains in the distance.

People speak of Elizabeth as being witty and sensitive, and how could she not be, played by Dame Helen Mirren. The playwright’s vision of the Queen is also athletic, outdoorsy, and a dog lover—a couple of trained Welsh Corgis are included in several scenes. She tells Gordon Brown (a miscast Nathaniel Parker) that her dream is to live full-time in the Scottish countryside.

The Queen’s hairstyle and costume evolve constantly, and even the handbag dangling from her arm. In one scene she clicks open the bag to offer a distraught Harold Wilson (played by Richard McCabe, probably a lot more charming than the original Wilson) a handkerchief, and flinches when he uses it and tries to return it to her.

Helen Mirren’s voice and body language change with great nuance to every age, including twenty-five, the year of the coronation. She says young Elizabeth had to curtsy to her parents at home. The current-age Elizabeth remarks to David Cameron that the future child of Kate and William, whether girl or boy, will one day be queen or king, bringing things right up to date. Long live the Queen.

This West End performance by “live” HD telecast was shown at the new NYU Skirball Center. At times the audience applauded, as though we were watching it onstage, as were people in 20 countries, at 700 cinemas.