The Madness of George III (review)

David Haig in The Madness of George III
David Haig in The Madness of George III

DAVID Haig gives the performance of his career in Alan Bennett’s witty, poignant and often harrowing account of The Madness of George III.

And there’s no justice in the world if this role doesn’t bring him awards by the bucketful.

It’s a daunting prospect taking on a character that was so decisively captured by the late Nigel Hawthorne in the film adaptation but Haig leaves no-one in any doubt that he has royally succeeded to the throne.

Audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre, where it played last week, were filled equally with laughter and sorrow at the plight of a king crippled by an unknown and misunderstood illness.

The result of his sickness was that he suffered horrific medical experiments at the hands of well-meaning but ignorant doctors who were working in a science few had any understanding of in the 18th century.

And while we watch the man’s descent into madness the heir to the throne, the powdered, poodle-haired and effete Prince of Wales, whips up political infighting to snatch the throne from his ailing father.

George, known as Farmer George to some, was very much a hands-on monarch with a great thirst for knowledge.

Bennett’s head of state and his wife, the rather plain German, Charlotte, lovingly call each other Mr and Mrs King and they bicker about daily life, their enormous brood of 15 children, and the country like any other happily married couple.

Life is fine “what, what” (an annoying habit of Mr King) until he starts to struggle with his thoughts, his skin feels on fire, his “waters” turn purple and he rapidly loses the plot.

But the audience don’t. We follow his progress to the edge of sanity and back and it’s a remarkable journey.

There couldn’t be a better actor to cope with the king’s tendency to hyper-talk. Words spew out of his mouth at a momentous rate, some of it nonsense and the rest as though his poor brain has gone into overdrive.

It is an astounding and memorable performance from one of this country’s finest actors.

He was ably supported by a superb company of theatre actors including Clive Francis as the blunt talking doctor Francis Willis; Madhav Sharma as Dr Richard Warren, Beatie Edney as Charlotte, and Nicholas Rowe and Gary Oliver as government leaders Pitt and Fox.

The Madness of George III is going into the West End after a short tour. Catch it if you can. It is a play that will leave an indelible mark in your memory.

ANNE COX