Directed by Christopher Luscombe
Pros: Alan Bennett’s script is superb and David Haig’s performance is outstanding.
Cons: We can’t think of any…
Our Verdict: A resounding success and highly recommended. Not ground breaking, but just very, very good theatre.
Having never seen the film or play before, I was really excited to see this production of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George III, and I was not disappointed. Without wasting any time, the play kicks off immediately with the fantastically funny character of King George mocking his subjects with intelligence and linguistic wit. From that moment on we are completely drawn in by David Haig’s exceptional portrayal of the King, presenting a man who, before he goes mad, is keenly aware of the farcical behaviour of the people who surround him.
David Haig deserves all the praise he’s been getting for this role during its run in Bath and subsequent tour; along with all the praise he is no doubt about to get as the run in the Apollo Theatre begins. With impressive physicality, he tows the line perfectly between comical madness and disturbing lunacy, always bringing to our attention the physical distress the character is in from suffering from what was in fact a physical condition. There is such subtly and sensitivity to his madness that even when all is proclaimed well by the end, you can still feel the lingering potential that it might all happen again, which of course is sadly the case.
Whilst this is arguably a one-character play, the whole thing would not come off as well as it does if it weren’t for an excellent supporting cast. Under Christopher Luscombe’s skilful direction, the rather large cast is a mix of colourful characters from politicians you love to hate and dithering doctors making a mockery of themselves and their profession, to attendants caught between duty to a King and compassion for the person they serve. The doctors are especially amusing as they bicker amongst themselves and remind us of just how far medicine has come from the days of bleeding and blistering. Christopher Keegan does a good job too in the role of the style-obsessed Prince of Wales, eager to take the throne from his father, as, in his words, being heir to the throne isn’t an occupation but a predicament.
With a play as well crafted and excellently scripted as this, it’s difficult to find anything to fault and personally I don’t see any reason to try. I especially appreciate that a play with such wit and poignancy can also leave room for the delightful moments throughout when pots of the King’s urine and stool are passed around and discussed in depth by almost all the characters.
Another stroke of genius from Alan Bennett is his scene that has the King act out a passage from King Lear, when Shakespeare’s character awakens from madness; with the doctor protesting that he had no idea what the play was about when he suggested they read it. With comical participation from one of the more sombre characters, Lord Thurlow, the scene generated the loudest laughs of the evening and as King George rightly observes, it is, awfully good stuff.
Although it won’t break any boundaries, it’s safe to say this production will enjoy a hugely successful run as it guarantees a wonderful evening of quality performance by an outstanding actor.
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