A fresh chance for David Seidler’s original to shineMarch 28th, 2012
by Henry Hitchings
At the heart of this stage version of the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech is a superb performance by Charles Edwards, a fine actor who deserves to be better known.
Edwards is of course vying with Colin Firth, so good in Tom Hooper’s film. But before it reached the big screen, The King’s Speech was a play, and here David Seidler’s writing gets a fresh chance to shine. In its stage incarnation, The King’s Speech is fundamentally an old-fashioned two-hander. The future King George VI (known to his family as Bertie) is striving to overcome his stammer. The specialist helping him, in engagingly unorthodox style, is Lionel Logue, an Australian who settled in London with the ambition of becoming a Shakespearean actor and gravitated into speech therapy. The play shows Bertie shrugging off his past: he had an unstable nanny, and was bullied into using his right hand rather than his left. His father George V (Joss Ackland) comes across as a tyrant, and no less intimidating is Bertie’s bullying brother, Edward VIII, who is thrilled yet also ruined by his passion for the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
It is his brother’s reckless relationship that forces Bertie into a position of responsibility. Facing this prospect, he has to seek help. Edwards perfectly conveys the agony of Bertie’s struggle to wrench words from within himself, as well as the restraint involved. And Jonathan Hyde is splendidly dry as Logue, a maverick who won’t let protocol stand in the way of an impressive result. There’s assured work around them, chiefly from Emma Fielding as Bertie’s pert wife Elizabeth. Some of the cameos, such as Michael Feast as the snooty archbishop of Canterbury, are rather broad. But there is no denying the laughs they get, and Adrian Noble’s sure-footed production combines well-judged humour with poignancy and a delight in patriotic ceremony. A strong sense of time and place derives from Anthony Ward’s ingenious design and Jon Driscoll’s projections. Less compelling is the use of echo in the most intimate scenes, which creates an air of portentousness. But even though I am not wholly convinced that a West End staging of The King’s Speech is something we urgently need, this is a slick, appealing package. The two key roles are inhabited fully – and at times thrillingly.
back to reviews