Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The King's Speech - review

Written by: Seona (@SeonaMcclintock)

Wyndham's Theatre, London

Although David Seidler’s stage play came first, this production of The King’s Speech will be under the eternal curse of the multi Oscar-winning film directed by Tom Hooper in 2010. It was perhaps intended to cash in on the mania that ensued and the current cultural obsession with the Royal Family – following Will and Kate’s big day and the upcoming Jubilee – but it just feels too soon. Charles Edwards in the central role of stuttering George VI, however impressive, can’t quite match Colin Firth. But I can’t help feeling that his performance, along with those of Jonathan Hyde as the King’s speech therapist, Lionel Logue, and Emma Fielding as Queen Elizabeth, would have been more appreciated – by me and others – if they hadn’t been put up against the unbridled success of the film.
Cinematic comparisons aside, the set was altogether too clunky and contrived. A huge black frame divided the stage in half and would spin around to indicate a change of location. Other than this device, which also doubled as a screen for some unnecessary film footage and an obstacle course for actors, the set was oddly minimalistic, letting Seidler’s language and characters take centre stage (metaphorically at least). The first part of each act was lost in a dizzying flurry of moving objects that took up more time than the acting itself, which was a shame since the play – at 2 hours and 5 minutes – was already rather short. It also created a disjointed, jumpy effect, like the beginning of a TV show when they have 30 seconds to fill you in on the series so far. Except in this case they were trying to skim over decades of royal and political history.

It’s not until we reach Lionel Logue’s study that we settle into a comfortable location long enough to enjoy the story. In the midst of the chaos of giant frames, the scenes here and in Logue’s home, give us some truly touching moments and glimmers of a special stage chemistry between Hyde and Edwards. At the end of the day, this play is not about the King or his stutter, but about his relationship with his eccentric speech therapist, which together these actors convey movingly.

Fielding shines as the reluctant King’s wife, and Charlotte Randle as the desperately homesick Myrtle Logue gives a very human aspect to the political turmoil that surrounds the central relationships. Another notable performance comes from Joss Ackland as King George V, giving the part all the weight and wit it needed. In fact, good performances are too many to mention (with a few exceptions, but I’ll let you spot them yourself), which is just as well given the ropey start.

Go and see it for the acting alone (but maybe not if you’re a huge fan of the film).
The King's Speech is booking until 21st July 2012.

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