After a five million pound refit of the auditorium the Theatre Royal deserved something special as a reopening, and The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett fits the bill on several counts. It was King George himself who gave the original Theatre Royal its Royal Warrant , the play is full of the wit and comedy only Bennett can write and finally David Haig, as King George, gives a mesmerising performance, which shows why he is one of our leading theatre actors.
The play is set in 1788, when King George suffered a mental breakdown (now attributed to porphyria) and not only were his doctors at a loss as how to treat him, but his son was trying to become Prince Regent , thereby taking over as ruler from his father. In later years that did actually happen as the Kings health deteriorated. But for the play, Bennett focuses on the period where George recovered before the Regency Bill was placed before the House of Lords.
Director Christopher Luscombe ensures the large cast have the audience captivated from the start, as we follow the Kings fall in to apparent madness. But Bennett’s script keeps the humour coming at all times as we watch his doctors try many despicable treatments. None of them knew exactly how to treat the King so they all try their own, often barbaric treatments all at the same time.
But you can never take your eyes off David Haig as George for a second. His performance captivates from the start and never sways. Often you can hardly bear to watch as the doctors perform their treatments on the King and his body writhes, racked in pain or he is tied in to a chair and gagged.
Last night, The Madness of George III fittingly reopened the Theatre Royal after a six month refit. Once again we witnessed why the Grand Old Lady of Grey Street, now all resplendent in red and gold, is one of Britain’s leading and best loved theatres, presenting the North East with the best theatrical productions.