Front Row Review: The King’s Speech

Date Posted: 28/03/2012

Transferring to the West End following a UK tour, Rebekah Tailor attended the opening night of The King’s Speech at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

The show summed up in one sentence... A first-class production combining humour and poignancy, with an outstanding cast portraying a fascinating insight of the royal family.

Who should see it? Those with an interest in the history of the British monarchy, or perhaps who just possess a curiosity about what goes on behind the palace walls...

NEWS UPDATE: The play is now due to close early on 12th May after disappointing ticket sales. Producers blame the film!

The 2010 film was the winner of four Academy Awards, seven BAFTAs, and grossed more than $400 million worldwide at the Box Office. Now, David Seidler’s original play of The King’s Speech is treading the boards at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre following a nationwide tour which premiered in February. Attending the opening night with some celebrity faces contributing towards the “pomp and pomposity” fitting of this royal production, I was aware that I was probably in the minority having never seen the film - not a particular drawback as I had no preconceptions, and could make no comparisons to its movie counterpart.

Any obvious risk involved with theatre-goers drawing inevitable comparisons with the film are soon dashed; this is a first-class stage production, with a superb cast and engaging script, keeping audiences absorbed from beginning to end. Whether a staunch royalist or not, the British monarchy is something of an ambiguity for those curious to know what goes on behind the palace walls. The story of how King George VI conquered his debilitating stammer with the help of “peculiar” speech therapist Lionel Logue makes for a fascinating narrative, and none more so than in this Diamond Jubilee year, when universal attention is focused on the British Royals.

A distinguished cast is led by the excellent Charles Edwards as King George VI - ‘Bertie’ to his family - and Jonathan Hyde, playing failed-actor-come-maverick-speech-therapist, Lionel Logue. Scenes featuring the pair are a frequented highlight, as we witness their awkward relationship flourish under Logue’s adverse questioning and obscure methods. Balancing moments of humour and poignancy, the King’s struggle is laid-bare, his frustrations felt in the stalls and small triumphs shared in the upper circles.

Support from Emma Fielding as Queen Elizabeth and Charlotte Randle as Myrtle Logue, adds another dimension to our leading men in a mutual role of husband and provider; and in a male-dominated cast, the two excel, providing an essential female presence. The eminent cast also features performances from Joss Ackland as the imperious King George V, David Killick as former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill - whose astute observations and shrewd one-liners add moments of humour amidst the political controversies stirred up by King Edward’s relationship with Wallis Simpson. Interestingly, the pair - played by Daniel Betts and Lisa Baird - were portrayed as the villains of the piece - perhaps unfairly and certainly unnecessarily.

In a production served by the strength of its acting abilities; a simple set performed its function, dominated by a revolving frame to aid scene changes. Staged in front of a black backdrop, the curtain is raised at the very end to reveal a public scene - symbolic perhaps of the burden lifted from the King’s shoulders as he addresses his nation upon the outbreak of Britain’s war with Germany. The use of authentic cinema footage throughout works extremely well, contextualising the play and reminding audiences of its basis in historic fact.

A production’s absorbing narrative and compelling script would be nothing without the support of a talented cast; and The King’s Speech has all three. Appealing to both British and international audiences - particularly as we enter into the Jubilee celebrations - will surely secure its West End success.

The King’s Speech was booking at the Wyndham’s Theatre until the 12th July, but has posted early closing now on 12th May. Performance times are Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm, with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Group rates are available for parties of eight plus.

www.kingsspeechtheplay.com

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

 

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