Emma Fielding & Charles Edwards in The King's Speech (photo: Francis Loney)
Where: West End
28 March 2012 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Following the unprecedented success of the recent film there was a certain inevitability that David Seidler’s original stage version of The King's Speech would receive a West End outing, and there are some who would argue it has followed too quickly on the heels of its big screen incarnation.
Either way, it’s a very decent addition to the 'Royal play' canon, here rendered in a superbly-acted production which arrives at Wyndham's fully warmed up after a regional tour.
What's especially striking seeing it in the flesh (and there's a surprising amount of flesh) is how underneath all the pomp, ceremony and deprecating humour, it paints a disturbing picture of the emotional abuses that so often occur at the heart of powerful families.
George VI (or Bertie) and his struggle to manage his stammer in order to provide his country with a wartime figurehead is one of the most endearing of modern Royal legends. When he parrots “duty is the sole justification for privilege” like a man resigned to the fact he must sacrifice his personal happiness due to an accident of birth (the very opposite attitude to that of his older brother), one wants to climb on stage and give him a protocol-shattering hug.
Charles Edwards has a difficult job tackling the central role, with the ghost of Colin Firth haunting the crown, but he pulls it off with aplomb. In fact I prefer him to Firth, who I felt was slightly too robust to capture the fragility of Bertie. Edwards lends him a childlike sensitivity, showing him as a man who never fully recovered from the abuses of his nanny and whose wife Elizabeth (a perfectly cast Emma Fielding) acts as an almost matriarchal replacement. Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue has much more to do in the stage version, and Charles Edwards & Jonathan Hyde in The King's Speech (photo: Francis Loney) Jonathan Hyde is equal to the challenge. His failed ambitions to be an actor are made more explicit, while his relationship with his high-profile client is given greater room to breathe. The scene where Bertie must sing his way through his childhood traumas, whisky in hand, is especially strong, and Hyde maintains an endearingly tongue-in-cheek attitude to the absurdities of Royal life throughout.
Logue’s relationship with wife Myrtle (
Charlotte Randle) is also more fully explored, though I’m not convinced her desire to return home provides quite the dramatic counterbalance Seidler intends. Elsewhere, Ian McNeice gives a suitably jowl-wobbling turn as Churchill, while the always-watchable Michael Feast makes for a slippery, pompous, almost pantomimic Archbishop of Canterbury (who at one stage proposes himself as the rightful head of state).
Adrian Noble’s production provides a fine first outing for this rags-to-riches playscript, which reveals Seidler as a writer who combines an historian’s eye for detail with a keen awareness of dramatic structure. I can’t pretend I got dewy-eyed at the mawkish Elgar-infused finale, but there are plenty who will.
- Theo Bosanquet
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
Relatively Speaking Goodness knows why Alan Ayckbourn's debut success has had to wait 46 years for its first West End ... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p... ATG acquires Broadway's largest theatre The Foxwoods, home of Spider-Man In another significant step for transatlantic theatre relations, the UK’s biggest theatre ... 1st Night Photos: Strictly stars party at Relatively Speaking first night Strictly stars Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen and Artem Chigvintsev were among those celebrating ... Matilda on Broadway wins five Drama Desk Awards The Broadway transfer of Matilda The Musical has won five gongs at the 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards... Pulitzer winner : Islam is 'ripe territory' for drama Ayad Akhtar Ayad Akhtar's play Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, receives its UK premiere ... Michael Coveney: New York honours Matilda with five big awards First blood in the New York awards contest went to Matilda last night, as the show walked off with... Opening: Relatively Speaking, Southwark Playhouse's Tanzi Libre & NT Shed's Bullet Catch Among this week's major London theatre openings, in the West End and further afield, are Relatively ... Young Vic's award-winning Doll's House transfers to West End Carrie Cracknell's critically acclaimed Young Vic production of A Doll's House, using an adaptatio... : Theatre 'flops' ripe for reinvention Ten of the Best Defining a theatre 'flop' is no straightforward task. A general rule of thumb could be that it mak...