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The King's Speech (West End)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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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.

Charles Edwards & Jonathan Hyde in The King's Speech (photo: Francis Loney)
Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue has much more to do in the stage version, and 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


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