Itís a tough act to follow. The star turn given by Nigel Hawthorne in both the original stage production and the subsequent film of The Madness of George III was rightly acclaimed as definitive.
If itís possible to have two definitive performances of the same part, then David Haig somehow achieves it. His George is whimsical, powerful, outrageous and affecting Ė in short, outstanding. And he forms the all-important centrepiece for this revival of Alan Bennettís historical comedy drama about the 18th century monarch and his struggles with his politicians, his divine right and his sanity.
Haig is inspired. His comedy is beautifully judged and timed, his emotional range extensive and deeply touching, and the sheer size and physicality of his performance mark him out as an actor at the top of his game.
Heís surrounded in Christopher Luscombeís expansive production by a cast of 24, who supply variety, humour and context to the kingís incipient madness, with particularly fine turns from Nicholas Rowe as the authoritative but increasingly undermined Prime Minister Pitt, and Clive Francis as the provincial doctor whose unrewarded efforts bring the king back from the edge of reason.
Luscombe has a decidedly stilted tendency to arrange groups of characters either in straight lines or dull semi-circles, which does little to assist the fluidity of an otherwise versatile and imaginative staging, but some elegant and clever sets by Janet Bird and careful lighting from Oliver Fenwick evoke the formality and majesty of Georgeís reign well enough to create a credible world.
And ultimately itís the performances that carry the show, making this a significant and worthwhile addition to the extensive roster of Bennett plays that are seemingly never-ending in their tours of the country.