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A CurtainUp London London Review
The King’s Speech

It used to be that all a king had to do was look smart in his uniform and not fall off his horse . . . now we have become actors. — George V
The King’s Speech
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
It is not often that a successful film can become a respectable stage play unless it had been originally written for the stage. However The King’s Speech may be the brilliant exception that proves the rule.

Author David Seidler was born in London in 1937 and later went to America where he is a moderately successful writer. He penned the screenplay for the Oscar winning movie of The King’s Speech It was a story close to his heart having been affected by a stutter in his late teens and thus always interested in the story of the English king George VI, the younger son thrust into the limelight after the abdication of his elder brother. In addition, Seidler has an uncle who too had a stammer and had been sent for treatment to Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist played in The King’s Speech by Jonathan Hyde. The detailed research carried out for The King’s Speech was underway over several decades although Seidler didn’t start writing it until 2005 at the request of Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Emma Fielding) who found the events very painful and asked him to wait until after her death.

The situation, where a member of the Royal Family has to seek out the help of an actor to improve his chances of delivering a speech, not interrupted by the agonising silence of someone trying to form a word, is one which is as much about communication across the huge class divide between the royals and ordinary folk, as about the improvement of the speech impediment. Again and again the stiffness of the expected court protocol interferes with the patient therapist relationship.

Bertie (Charles Edwards), the family name of the man who succeeded to the throne, on the abdication of his brother Edward VIII (Daniel Betts) in order to marry the American twice divorced Wallis Simpson, was mercilessly bullied by his brothers. “B-B-B-Bertie,” they called him. Only on his death bed was George V (Joss Ackland) heard to say, “Bertie has more guts than all his brothers put together". The story of the abdication is a constant source of speculation even now but usually centring on the love story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor rather than the hapless king who stepped into the breach in the name of duty.

I really liked the movie of The King’s Speech but if anything I enjoyed the play even more. Somehow the closeness of the stage actors gives the scenario an intimacy not experienced on the screen. The central performances of Charles Edwards as the king to be and of Jonathan Hyde as his outspoken therapist are exquisite, contrasting in style and tone — one, an Australian not used to the niceties of society and the other brought up in a royal cocoon.

Charles Edwards is touching and vulnerable, especially when he recalls details of his abused childhood when with bandy legs he was put in heavy splints and had a nanny who pinched and starved him. Jonathan Hyde emphasises his role as the expert, and although his methods are dismissed initially as bunkum, the recording made by Bertie of his fluent recital of a Shakespearean speech while loud classical music played in his ears on headphones convinces Bertie and his wife Elizabeth to see Mr Logue again.

Michael Feast plays Cosmo Lang the Archbishop of Canterbury and a vociferous detractor of Logue’s methods. Pure comedy! Ian McNeice gives us a cameo of politician Winston Churchill. Wallis (Lisa Baird) and her prince dance the 1930s night away as others speculate on the erotic sexual technique she was meant to have learnt in Shanghai which kept the Prince of Wales captive. There are pieces of gossip, allusions to the supposed pact Hitler had to restore Edward VIII to the throne with Wallis as his queen should Germany have won the war or to the 17 carnations sent to her every day for a while by her German Ambassador lover Count von Ribbentrop, one for each day that the Count and Wallis had slept together.

Most of the scenes take place in Logue’s consulting rooms or home but there is a scene in Westminster Abbey preparing for the coronation. Adrian Noble’s touching production is not a pale imitation of the movie but has more fascinating detail from David Seidler’s detailed research. The famous speech is movingly made to the rousing strains of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Highly recommended.

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The King’s Speech
Written by David Seidler
Directed by Adrian Noble

Starring: Charles Edwards, Emma Fielding, Michael Feast, Jonathan Hyde, Joss Ackland
With: Charlotte Randle, Daniel Betts, Ian McNeice, David Killick, Lisa Baird, Jeremy Bennett, Andrew Malkin, Adam Lilley
Designed by Anthony Ward
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: Mic Pool
Projection design: Jon Driscoll
Running time: Two hours and 5 minutes minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5120
Booking to 21st July 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th March 2012 performance at Wyndham’s Charing Cross Road London WC2H 0DA (Tube: Leicester Square)

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