Photo: candescent via Flickr
A corgi has been sacked from the West End play The Audience for refusing to obey the command of Dame Helen Mirren, playing the Queen.It is the hit West End show that is delighting critics and the public alike.
But behind the scenes of The Audience, which stars Dame Helen Mirren as the Queen, it has not all been running as smoothly as it appears on stage, with producers forced to sack one of the cast just days before opening night.
Lizzy, an appropriately regally-named corgi, had to go because of its refusal to obey the commands of its co-star, Dame Helen.
The play is a fictionalised account of the Queen’s relationships with her prime ministers over her 61-year reign and Lizzy featured in a scene, set at Balmoral, in which Harold Wilson visits.
The seven-year-old animal had been happy to enter stage right on a lead at the start of its scene and then to be escorted off stage left. However, at the end of the scene, Lizzy was supposed to run back across the stage – this time without a lead – when called by Dame Helen.
Instead it stayed in the wings and refused to go on, leaving its corgi co-star Rocky, five, to end the scene on its own. Despite the best efforts of cast and crew, it happened on 16 consecutive preview performance nights.
So, 10 days ago, faced with the looming prospect of press night, the decision was taken to sack Lizzy.
Its place was taken by Coco, who made a faultless West End debut in the Saturday matinee after just 20 minutes of rehearsal.
Stephen Daldry, the play’s director, said Lizzy’s first three performances had gone smoothly, before the run of refusals.
“She was excited the first three times, and then I think she decided she didn’t want to be an actress any more. She decided to retire from the British stage.
“Now she’s back home, a resting actress, resting by the fire.”
Des Jordan, 42, of Animal Actors, the agency which provided the dogs, suggested the production had been hit by a notorious problem in theatre – an ageing diva who grew jealous of the younger co-star.
He explained that as the dogs ran offstage, he would be waiting in the wings with a handful of treats for them to eat.
“Because Lizzy was older, she was not as fast as Rocky, so he was first to the treats,” he said. “There may have been a bit of jealousy involved.”
Mr Jordan said that Coco had exhibited no diva tendencies thus far, possibly because the five-year-old was the same age as Rocky.
The corgis, he added, stayed at his home off-duty, enjoying regular walks in the park.
At the Gielgud Theatre, London, they have their own air-conditioned dressing room, with dog beds and an ever-changing rider of doggy toys so they never get bored.
Mr Jordan adds: “I look after them better than my own children. I have to.
“They are doing an important job and no one would be happy if anything happened to them.”
Lizzy is in Gloucestershire with Mary Davey, who owns all three of the dogs. She said: “Lizzy is a lovely, friendly dog who is now enjoying her treats.”
Daldry, who has also directed the Oscar- nominated films Billy Elliot and The Hours, added: “People seem to think corgis nip and yap, but all the ones we have worked with — including dear old Lizzy – have been gorgeous.”
The audience and critics, too, have warmed to the canine stars. Their arrival on stage is being greeted by a chorus of “aahs” from the stalls, while many of the reviews have also remarked on the “lovely” corgis.
Indeed, despite the problems created by Lizzy, the producers are planning to expand the play’s animal cast, with the addition of a dapple grey pony named Emily.
It will feature in a new scene, being created by the play’s writer, Peter Morgan — who also wrote for Dame Helen in the film, The Queen.
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