REVIEW: THE KING’S SPEECH, YVONNE ARNAUD THEATRE, GUILDFORDFebruary 13th, 2012
by Neil Norman
THE myth that Britain’s most successful independent film was discovered as a fringe play can now be dispelled.
Although screenwriter David Seidler originally wrote it as a play he was persuaded to turn it into a screenplay before it had ever taken a breath on stage.
And while the premiere of his original theatrical construct might seem like a cynical exercise in cashing in on his new-found glory, Adrian Noble’s lucid production suggests otherwise.
Sporting a tremendous cast of seasoned actors, it is a model of clarity. Designer Anthony Ward has created a huge revolving frame that dominates the centre of the stage, creating rooms and spaces in an instant and occasionally acting as a giant mirror reflecting the action.
The play’s opening line, as Bertie (Charles Edwards) arrives on stage in full ceremonial regalia to deliver his fateful speech at Wembley Stadium – “I look like a Christmas tree” – tells you all you need to know about his feelings towards The Firm. In a series of deft and economical scenes, Seidler establishes the court, the politicians and the climate of the time before the terrible embarrassment of Bertie’s stammering address. The stage is set for the drama – and comedy – that follows.
Although there is much here that was removed from the screenplay it seems to move faster. There are conspicuous shifts of emphasis – David aka Edward VIII (Daniel Betts) is more malicious and cruelly cavalier towards his younger brother; the speech therapist Lionel Logue (Jonathan Hyde) is a failed actor whose wife (Charlotte Randle) is desperate to return to Australia.
And the impending war is everywhere apparent, from the dialogue between Churchill (Ian McNeice) and Baldwin (David Killick) to the unfudged association between the Edward and Mrs Simpson and Hitler. This places the central drama in a wider context than the film and raises the stakes on the significance of Bertie’s culminating speech to which everyone with a wireless would be listening, including Franklin D Roosevelt, Hitler and Stalin.
Hyde subtly underplays Lionel’s irreverence, revealing the therapist’s own feelings of inadequacy both as an actor and as a patronised colonial. Edwards is perfect as Bertie. Apart from the stammer, he has the posture – slight stoop, hands behind his back – of the Royal family.
And beneath the awkwardness he suggests a keen mind stropped to razor sharpness that recalls I, Claudius; his solution to the question over what title his abdicated brother warrants is delivered to Churchill and the politically ambitious Archbishop of Canterbury (Michael Feast) like a bullet to a bullseye.
Noble’s laudable production thus becomes less of an adjunct to the film and more an independent entity that exists satisfyingly on its own terms.
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