Written by a stammerer, David Seidler, who began work on the project way back in the 70s and 80s (putting it on hold at the request of the Queen Mother and only returning to it after she’d passed away) The King’s Speech went on to become a surprisingly huge success and multi-Oscar winning movie. King George VI was something of a hero to the young Seidler who grew up during World War II listening to his broadcasts on the radio and drawing some comfort from the fact that he’d been able to overcome his affliction so perhaps it’s no surprise that the subject was handled so sensitively.
The plot itself is pretty simple. Prince Albert, son of George V, stammers during a speech and seeks help from an unconventional speech therapist, the alliterative Lionel Logue. Bertie believes the results are less than impressive and gives up, safe in the knowledge that he can probably avoid giving too many speeches. How wrong can a chap be eh? Following the death of George V Bertie’s older bro becomes king but gives it all up for American socialite Wallis Simpson forcing him to unwillingly take the crown. As if that wasn’t enough some absolute bounder called Hitler invades Poland and starts World War II. Hell, that’s enough to make anyone stammer. Can Bertie conquer his fears and address the nation...?
If you’ve seen the movie or have a passing knowledge of history you’ll know the answer but this new production of The King’s Speech does a fine job of creating and building the tension. The crux of the whole thing of course is the relationship between Logue and Bertie, played by Jason Donavan and Raymond Coulthard respectively. Donavan’s something of a revelation in this role and it’s great to see him doing something a little more serious with his talents rather than the recent musical stuff which, fun though it was, he often never seemed 100% comfortable with. Okay so he’s playing a straight talking Aussie so he’s got a bit of a head start there but his sense of timing and faultless performance this evening impressed.
Coulthard is a suitably conflicted Prince, desperate to stay behind the scenes but, when the time comes, equally committed to serving his country.
It may seem a strange thing to say but perhaps at times there isn’t quite enough stammering and once or twice it was possible to almost forget the depth and severity of his affliction, although equally there’s a danger that by overdoing it you’ll end up going all Awkright from Open All Hours. Speaking of which there were a surprising number of chuckles this evening, seemingly more so than in the movie. One of those responsible, Nicholas Blaine, makes a fine Churchill, Jamie Hinde is suitably caddish as Edward VIII/David and Claire Lams provides some touching moments as Bertie’s devoted wife and protector (a role the real life Queen Mother evidently played right up to the end of her life).
The backdrop to the set’s an imposing giant Art Deco-ish curved wall of wood with doors that pop open occasionally to frame actors delivering the odd speech, various bits and pieces are wheeled on by the cast to change the settings - everything from Logue's room through to Westminster Abbey which, with a bit of imagination, works well enough and the costumes are simply gorgeous, as you’d hope/expect.
Donovan seemed particularly moved by the enthusiastic applause at the end, putting an arm around ‘his King’ as he left the stage, but it was thoroughly well deserved. A right Royal success in fact.
The King’s Speech is on at The REP until March 7th. Tickets here!
All photos courtesy and copyright of Hugo Glendinning.