The King's Speech (Tour) – 'Jason Donovan is the beating heart of Silbert's fine production'

Roxana Silbert’s production is made by the lead performances of Raymond Coulthard and Jason Donovan

Raymond Coulthard as King George VI and Jason Donovan as Lionel Logue
'Virtuosic performances': Raymond Coulthard as King George VI and Jason Donovan as Lionel Logue
© Hugo Glendinning

Playwright David Seidler waited pretty much all his life to write The King’s Speech. A stammerer from early childhood, he’d taken inspiration from George VI’s battle to overcome his impediment and vowed that one day he would write about it. Famously, the Queen Mother requested that he delay telling her husband’s story during her lifetime, which meant that Seidler was heading for his septuagenarian years by the time the project finally came to fruition.

Within a few short years of its completion, however, it had earned him an Oscar and a Bafta courtesy of its film incarnation, starring Colin Firth as the unfortunate monarch and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the Australian interloper who turned his fortunes around.

Five years on from that screen success, the time seems right for a revival of Seidler’s original stage play. Birmingham Rep artistic director Roxana Silbert has already showcased her production at Chichester but now brings it home for a Midlands audience to enjoy the virtuosic performances of its stars.

Headlining as the antipodean voice coach Lionel Logue is Jason Donovan, clearly authentic enough in origin and manner to be able to convey the brash familiarity that so irritated the court and high society of the 1930s. But Donovan’s Logue is so much more than a pasted-on Aussie redneck mistaken for a Harley Street doctor. The nuances and intelligent subtleties of his performance betray a carefully thought-out and superbly delivered characterisation. He’s energetic, powerful and constantly entertaining to watch – the beating heart of Silbert’s fine production.

The success of this intimate study of the behind-the-scenes abdication drama is very much a double act, though, and Raymond Coulthard provides a stunningly delicate, fraught and yet deeply moving portrayal of the man who never wanted to be king. His struggle not only with his stammer but also with the machinations of state, his older brother’s flakiness and his reluctance to play the ultimate role are brilliantly conveyed in a performance that deepens and develops as the play moves towards its inspiring conclusion.

Silbert empowers this beautifully-matched pair by giving them the space to reveal the growing relationship, played out on a gorgeous, flexible art deco set designed by Tom Piper. There’s a large supporting cast, headed by Claire Lams and Katy Stephens in memorable performances as the future Queen Elizabeth and Mrs Logue respectively. Elsewhere, however, Seidler’s characterisations are thin to the point of pastiche as the likes of Winston Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, serve as little more than theatrical devices to fill in exposition and historical context – although Nicholas Blane and Martin Turner wring as much from their characters as they can.

One wonders if the play mightn’t have worked even more effectively as a genuine two-hander, especially when the hands in question are as impressive and secure as Donovan’s and Coulthard’s.

The King's Speech runs at Birmingham Rep until 7 March 2015, before touring to Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester, Woking, Sheffield, Belfast, Malvern, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Edinburgh, Leeds and Truro