The King’s Speech (review)

Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde in The King's Speech. Photo by Manuel Harlan
Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde in The King's Speech. Photo by Manuel Harlan
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I WAS shocked and saddened to hear that The King’s Speech is to close. The closing notices were posted on Friday yet I saw the production at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre two days earlier and, like everyone else in the audience, was blown away by the drama and Charles Edwards’ remarkable portrayal of Bertie, King George VI, in particular.

You have until May 12 to book seats for the show and I would endorse every four and five-star review that the play has received. It is a hugely poignant and deeply moving story that will leave an indelible impression.

Charles Edwards in The King's Speech.

Charles Edwards in The King's Speech.

Forget, if it’s possible, Colin Firth’s Oscar-winning movie version of the story, and go and see the play before it’s too late. This is far superior.

I love Firth (what woman doesn’t?) but Edwards gets to the heart of the character, his stiff-upper lip and monarchic reserve utterly convincing. Is it possible that an actor, largely unheard of by the viewing public, can better Firth? Absolutely.

There’s a scene where he explains to his new, and unconventional, speech therapist Lionel Logue, the harrowing brutality of his childhood. He speaks so matter-of-fact about his torment that it’s heartbreaking.

The silence in the auditorium was palpable, the image of a tortured little boy, who was never good enough for his domineering father, affecting everyone. I swear that I heard sobbing from the stalls.

The King’s Speech failure to bring in audiences, despite being one of the best dramas to come to the West End in years, has been blamed on it coming out too soon after the film version.

I believe that the producers should have taken the show on a much longer regional tour before opening in London. I can guarantee that they would have played to full houses at venues like Milton Keynes Theatre and other regional venues where quality drama is truly appreciated. London theatre is often populated by tourists who have it on their “to do” list and who would be unmoved and uninterested in the story.

Bertie, the second son of King George V, evolved a terrible stammer in his childhood due to his cruel upbringing. Stress and fear made it impossible for him to undertake public speaking events, prompting his loving wife (the terribly well-spoken Emma Fielding) to seek help.

She stumbles upon Logue, an unqualified failed Australian actor, in the small ads, and, in a momentous battle of wills with his reserved and most celebrated of clients, the self-taught therapist sets about helping our future king to face his demons.

Jonathan Hyde normally portrays terribly English gentlemen but the Australian-born actor returns to his roots with an entirely convincing and affectionate performance as Logue.

There is a tremendous supporting performance from Ian McNeice (Doc Martin) as a manipulative Churchill but it is Michael Feast’s turn as a conniving and ambitious Archbishop of Canterbury which leaves a lasting impression.

Joss Ackland draws the short straw as the ailing king, appearing in a few early scenes before being killed off pretty sharply. Despite this he gives the character gravitas, describing his family as “one of the oldest firms in the world”. It would be easy to dismiss the old king’s callousness as bullying but he understood that the monarchy was a business and its success relied on slick presentation and no scandal.

The first time we see “Bertie” was a bit of a shock for those of us sitting in the centre front of the stalls. A double stands stark naked with his back to the audience in front of a mirror as he is dressed – the problem is that the stage is elevated and that initial, unexpected, sight of the man’s undercarriage left me momentarily stunned. Older members of the audience nearly had the vapours.

But this is very much Edwards’ play. His outstanding portrayal as Bertie is powerful and unforgettable – and it deserves every plaudit.

The King’s Speech closes on May 12. Book tickets for a memorable night at the theatre by calling 0844 482 5136 or go online www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

ANNE COX