TAKING a much-loved and highly-acclaimed film back to its stage roots was always going to be a gamble – but the new touring production of The King’s Speech is a glorious work of theatrical art.
Those regional theatres fortunate enough to be hosting Adrian Noble’s sumptuous production of David Seidler’s play prior to the inevitable and worthy West End transfer must be rubbing their hands with glee – and lucky audiences rejoicing at having had the chance to see such a beautiful and compelling production.
Everyone is bound to be going along to the play with fond memories of the film (it was a reading of Seidler’s original play that caught the attention of film-makers and the story hit the big screen before having the chance to be staged), so there is an instant knowledge of the story, a warmth of appreciation and high expectation even before the curtain goes up on Anthony Ward’s simple but elegant revolving set that manages to set the scenes without offering too much by way of period distraction.
Comparisons with the film are short-lived, as a stunning cast quickly transports us into the three dimensional world of the 1930s, the abdication crisis, and the desperate attempts of the future King George VI to overcome years of bullying and put-downs and to speak without his stammer with the aid of Australian thespian turned therapist Lionel Logue.
A production that boasts the experience and gravitas of the wonderful Joss Ackland in the brief role of George V demonstrates its commanding credentials. This is a cast of such high quality that you long to see more of every carefully-crafted character.
The fact that the always exceptional Charles Edwards is so woefully unknown should change henceforth thanks to his outstanding performance as Bertie, an often amusing, sometimes heartbreaking, constantly engaging king in the making, a man of rare high morals and decency. If film and theatre directors and producers are not queuing at his door to offer the finest of roles after this then I shall personally be launching a strongly-worded letter-writing campaign.
There is a also a real sense of the love and support given by his wife Queen Elizabeth (a performance of grace and charisma with a twinkle in the eye from Emma Fielding), countered by seeing the dark side of a somewhat cruel and amoral Edward VIII in a sublime performance by Daniel Betts.
Jonathan Hyde gives passion and personality to the wily Logue and it’s interesting to see his desire to serve, his disappointment at the lack of professional theatrical success, and the feeling of homesickness shared with his wife (a charming and strong performance from Charlotte Randle).
The political and religious background to the story is given extra pizzazz on stage, helped considerably by the towering performances of Ian McNeice as a grizzly Winston Churchill and Michael Feast as Archbishop Cosmo Lang.
There is something entirely appropriate and pleasing about this moving and excellent piece being given such a superb stage treatment in The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year, with its themes of duty, love, virtue, and honesty. The company will have to get used to many more standing ovations and cheers at the curtain call.