Transferred to the West End having been staged by the Peter Hall Company at the Theatre Royal, Bath, Alan Bennett’s 1991 historical drama tells the story of George’s reign during his deteriorating health and personal relationships, while displaying the various medical efforts to cure his lunatic mental state.
Nigel Hawthorne’s 1991 performance in the title role, described by Whatsonstage.com chief critic Michael Coveney as "defining", set the bar extremely high for David Haig, but critical opinion proves his performance was close to perfection.
The Madness of George III finishes its limited season at the Apollo Theatre on 31 March 2012, making way for David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf to star in Long Day's Journey into Night at the same address.
"Well, it’s okay, 'what what,' but Alan Bennett’s dramatic anatomy of King George’s painful business of sitting on the throne proves a tough call in the West End. The play is hard to follow and the task of matching the historical story to contemporary application elusive … It’s still a great pleasure to sit through … This in no way detracts from the brilliance of David Haig in the title role … Haig, an outstanding character actor who still needs a sharper profile with the public, claims the part as his own, and finds fresh and fruity diversions within. He plays frustration better than anyone; and he’s effortlessly funny even when the play – oh dear, I wish it were - isn’t … Christopher Luscombe’s brisk and well-cast production… is a testament to that venue’s on-going creative and re-defining policy … It’s an enormously clever play, I now see, without being a very compelling one. But it’s a more than decent addition to the West End list, and we should be so lucky to have Alan Bennett still writing for the theatre when so many lesser writers of his generation, and after, turn up their noses at Shaftesbury Avenue.
"That we never lose that affection, through all the horrid humiliation that follows, is the mark of one of those treasurable moments when a familiar, well-liked actor rises to a new level of real greatness. Cosily uxorious with his sweet tubby Queen (Beatie Edney), testy with the morose Pitt (Nicholas Rowe), Haig moves seamlessly between comic absurdity and a still Shakespearean dignity in torment … What is brilliant in Haig’s interpretation is that the same tension, whether didactic or crazy, runs through both his states. Alan Bennett’s play became iconic with Nigel Hawthorne’s performance under Nicholas Hytner, and that memory will not fade. Yet Christopher Luscombe’s direction for the Theatre Royal Bath makes it anew. It is rare to meet a production so flawless. The rapid pace is unimpeded by Janet Bird’s diagrammatically simple old-gold set, suggesting palatial spaciousness with empty frames … In the huge cast every personality stands out, from the nervously kindly pages to Sir Lucas Pepys the doctor, forever gazing raptly into a chamber pot. Superb."
"Awfully good stuff it is, indeed, in Christopher Luscombe's clever revival. With help from Janet Bird's design, with its rows of empty picture frames suspended above the stage, it reminds us that Bennett is not writing a royal Downton Abbey, but a play exploring appearance and reality. The entire edifice of court, government and country is based on an illusion: the danger lies not in the king's madness, but in the revelation that the poor, shivering creature sitting blistered, bled, purged and wrapped in a straitjacket, is only a man after all ... There are times when the evening feels a little schematic, and the dialogue forced, but this is intelligent, witty and moving West End fare with a big, compassionate heart. It features a most extraordinary performance from David Haig, an actor who radiates sweetness, terror, comedy and tragedy, often in the same line. The play is everything because of him."
"It's delightful to report that, from the very first sparkling line, David Haig seizes upon this once-in-a-lifetime gift of a part from Alan Bennett and makes it his own. This cherishable actor, whose wonderful manner is warm and lugubrious by turn, is going to re-mint the role for a new generation of theatre-goers … He's troubled both physically and mentally by his affliction - and by the barbarous medical practices of the day - and Haig wrings every last drop of pathos out of this grievous reversal of fortune … Christopher Luscombe's swift-flowing production boasts some strong supporting turns, from Beatie Edney as loyal Queen Charlotte (or "Mrs King," as her husband calls her) and Nicholas Rowe as Prime Minister Pitt. Pitt is desperate to stop his administration falling due to the machinations of Christopher Keegan's fool of a Prince of Wales, anxious to be proclaimed Regent. Royally good.
"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now… there are many moments that cut at the heart like a knife … Nigel Hawthorne scored one of the greatest successes of his career in the role of Bennett’s King George III. It seemed an impossible act to follow, but David Haig proves every inch Hawthorne’s equal in a performance of extraordinary emotion, tenderness and humour. This is one of those rare and thrilling evenings when a very good actor suddenly moves up a gear into indisputable greatness … Haig marvelously captures the wit, the impatience and the eccentric likeability of the monarch … Even in dark scenes there are moments of black comedy, beautifully caught by Haig, as his language turns scatological and he develops a disastrous crush on a lady in waiting … the actor holds nothing back … The play isn’t perfect. The complex political background never comes fully to life, though there is a delicious comic turn from Christopher Keegan as an obese and odious Prince of Wales … But Christopher Luscombe’s elegant, lucid, and deeply felt production grips throughout and Haig is simply magnificent, both in his madness and his deeply moving recovery."
- McKenzie Kramer