The King’s Speech, touring, reviewFebruary 13th, 2012
by Charles Spencer
On the face of it, this stage version of The King’s Speech might seem surplus to requirements, just a cynical attempt to squeeze a few more quid out of the Oscar-winning movie. Yet judging by the audience’s rapt, warm reaction at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, I have a hunch it will prove a deserved hit on tour and transfer to the West End.
David Seidler, who was responsible for the screenplay, originally wrote the piece as a stage drama, and there is a sense of shared community and warmth in the theatre that you rarely experience in the cinema. What’s more, the live nature of the event makes the future George VI’s painful speech impediment seem especially poignant when he finds himself reluctantly propelled to the crown by the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.
The former RSC chief Adrian Noble directs a production that is elegant, lucid and witty, with a revolving stage design to conjure different locations, as well as highly effective use of period film footage.
Better yet, the cast is superb, and you never find yourself regretting that you aren’t watching Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
After outstanding Shakespearean performances as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Benedick, the splendid Charles Edwards has been on the cusp of stardom for some time and his funny, touching, deeply felt performance as the stammering King should propel him into the top rank of British actors.
He captures beautifully the mixture of stiff formality and raw vulnerability in the character of Bertie, and his scenes with Jonathan Hyde’s wily Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue achieve exactly the right blend of humour and emotional depth.
I’m not convinced that the expansion of the role of Logue’s wife in the play adds much, and regretted the absence of the young Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. Daniel Betts makes a compellingly unpleasant, Nazi-admiring Edward VIII, however, and the political background is well caught with superb performances from Ian McNeice as a persuasive Churchill and Michael Feast as the creepy Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang.
What makes the piece so moving in our own debased times is its celebration of the unfashionable virtues of duty and moral decency, qualities that George VI exemplified and so successfully passed on to our own Queen. This production of The King’s Speech is well timed for her Diamond Jubilee year.
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