There really is nothing better than a bit of good old patriotic British theatre. It's not just me saying that - Britain is well renowned for its theatrical expertise and when I went to watch the King's Speech at the Theatre Royal Bath at the end of February, I was fairly sure I had found an outstanding example. Consequently, this review was inevitable.
I suppose I have an empathetic connection to the story of King George VI as I understand what it is to feel stifled when one has so much to say. I had never heard of the story or the issue raised about the King before and so when the FILM came out in 2011 I made it a priority to go and see it... that and the fact I'm an avid supporter of British film. It is a shame that I was naïve to the existence of the play that inspired the Oscar winning motion picture rather then experiencing the two the other way round but I was more than impressed with the film adaptation starring Colin Firth. So when the monthly programme for my local theatre came flapping through my letter box and I found The King's Speech hidden amongst the pages, I was giddy to say the least.
The recent renovation at Bath Theatre Royal has bestowed the quaint little auditorium with brand new refurbishments both onstage and off, one of these being the ability to insert a revolve into the stage floor to help visiting companies make their pieces all the more dynamic. I was surprised to see this used in such a classic play, (I was more surprised to see a naked man standing onstage as the curtain went up, to be honest), but I suppose this shows classical theatre at its best - taking advantage of modern technology to appeal to a modern audience and making history come vibrantly alive. Tackling issues such as the ones in this play are vital for society to understand and acknowledge and the method that RSC artistic director Adrian Noble adopted for his adaptation ticked every box. What's more, it made his chosen gest - of what I infer was pressures of the media or something along those lines - more explicit due to the imposing television canvas screen balanced on the revolve that took up the entire length of the stage. This not only made the hyperbole look meek but did a good job of making scene transitions smooth and efficient and meant the stage wasn't constantly cluttered with Lionel's aeroplanes.
The aeroplanes were, incidentally, not just a metaphor for Bertie's escape but a source for humour throughout the play which was particularly strong despite the sometimes awkward atmosphere a speech impediment can impose on a situation. One of the strange sanctities of life is that balance is the key to weight loss and more importantly success onstage. The King's Speech inspired an eclectic range of tear-jerking moments of splendid gauche when the protagonist fails to speak his mind to the juxtaposing sanguinity when his therapist does it for him. All of this was resting on the precipice of one of the most horrific events of the 20th century, captured by the bleakly lit upstage and the urgent anticipation seen in the faces of each character. Yes, I suppose you could say this play was dark at times, but then so is the night until the stars come out.
Speaking of stars, this play was jam-packed with them. Quite frankly, if Charles Edwards had starred in the film of the same title, I've no doubt the BAFTA would still have been awarded to the role. Any actor will tell you that playing a non-fictional character, especially one as iconic as the Queen's father, is desired and feared at the same time. Despite this, Edwards possessed a quality of familiarity that is necessary for any royal to have in order to please their subjects and a vulnerability that would make even the sordid of hearts feel cleansed. The time and effort gone into this role was visible from my idyllic seat in the stalls not just through his voice and actions but by his accuracy and acute timings. Of course though, there are two sides to every coin and although Emma Fielding's eloquent elegance was undeniably convincing as the Queen Mother, Jonathan Hyde's brilliantly witty Lionel Logue was just the cherry on top. The rapport between he and Edwards was infallible and captured the true essence of friendship from the very first session.
Being shown in theatre's so soon after the cascade of success following the film, the original The King's Speech had a lot to live up to in the eyes of the audience it had to win back. I think it's safe to say Adrian Noble's sleek direction brought a great deal of smug satisfaction to theatre fans all over Britain with the show receiving rave reviews from all corners, (including this one), and the majority concluding that it gives the film a run for its money, (also including this one). A fine example of true British theatre, dependent on nothing but the lives of truly British people. Apart from Lionel, who was in fact Australian.
(Image taken from Theatre Royal Bath website)