Review: The King’s Speech @ Wyndham Theatre

Jonathan Hyde and Charles Edwards.

A few of the reviews I read of this play, before watching it last week, suggested that it was a replica of the film version but, after having seen both, I beg to differ. The play gives us a much more nuanced and layered vision of David Seidler’s script than the film. This is not to say that the film wasn’t good but I found the play much more powerful and moving. Where it really surpassed the film is in its presentation of the overall context of life (political and otherwise) as it was then in Britain.

While the film mostly focused on the three main characters (Bertie, Elizabeth and the Australian speech therapist, Lionel), the play expands on the other characters and produces more interesting themes. The portrayal of the relationship between Lionel, and his wife, Myrtle is a good illustration of this. Through this relationship, we discover how ‘outsiders’ are treated in Britain. The contemptuous rejection Lionel receives from directors at theatre auditions and Myrtle’s revelations about how she is constantly reminded she isn’t one of them in ‘motherland’ Britain should strike a chord with some members in the audience. They struck a chord with me, in any case. Lionel’s own dithering between living in Britain and moving back to Australia is suitably complex and one that anyone in a similar situation will be able to relate to.

The play also gives a focus on the real power brokers in this political drama – Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The horse trading that takes place behind Bertie’s back is fascinating and the recurring political debate about the Church’s role in politics gets a good enough airing. Hitler and the looming war figure very much throughout the play; the honesty with which the play treats the sympathetic support that both Edward VII and Mrs Simpson had for Hitler is to be applauded. We are reminded of Hitler’s intention to reinstall Edward VII as the king which makes Bertie’s quest to overcome his own personal doubts (as exemplified by his stuttering speech) in the face of a wider political storm just that much more moving. As the play packs in quite a lot, inevitably, Elizabeth, whose role was more prominent in the film, has a more supportive one in the play – and rightly so in my view.

The two lead roles – Bertie and Lionel – are outstandingly portrayed by Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde respectively. I preferred Edwards’ Bertie to the one that Colin Firth gave us in the film. Edwards’ Bertie is much more human who strikes the right balance between his royal demeanour, his sense of duty and his gnawing doubts borne out of insecurity. His Bertie emanates a child-like quality when he lets his guard down which helps to give us a sense of his own personal struggles. He depicts the stuttering wholly convincingly, often coupling it with knee twitches. Hyde’s Lionel sees the world he lives in with the eyes of an outsider while remaining engaged with it. When left to himself, he disappears into his child-like world which is a neat parallel with Bertie. The chemistry between both characters is compelling and can’t be faulted in anyway. The rest of the cast deliver an equally robust and credible performance.

Anthony Ward’s ingenious set design is not only visually impressive but helps the play to maintain its momentum. The play successfully deploys music (Elgar’s Nimrod) and archived film material to achieve bathos. The very last scene, where one man conquers his personal fears to make a speech that will change the lives of many, not only of his generation, but of others to follow, brought tears to my eyes. I don’t remember the film having the same stirring impact on me. A production, cast and performances that are worthy of the standing ovation at the end.

Until 12 May 2012.
Written by David Seidler.
Directed by Adrian Noble.
Performance time is approximately two hours including an interval.

On Wednesday 25 April, Mark Logue, Lionel Logue’s grandson, will attend a Q&A session with the lead actors Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde after the performance. It is worth noting that Mark’s finding of his grandfather’s diaries revealed the extent of Lionel’s relationship with Bertie and influenced the story. There is a limited offer of tickets for the performance and the Q&A at £29.50.

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