By Danielle Farrow
The King’s Speech sees Australian Lionel Logue aid the stammering Prince Albert – Bertie – in public speaking, against a background of national and international tension reflected in shadows of characters and planes created by Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design.
David Seidler’s script has plenty of wit, as well as including a few issues along the lines of cross-class and culture connection, royal isolation and the weight of familial expectations / bullying. Roxana Silbert’s direction is occasionally heavy handed about certain aspects including comedy and depth of emotion, but the story is fairly well developed. There was a general feel, in this production touring since 5th February, that supporting performers were sometimes offering more energy than the two leads, with honourable mention going to Nicholas Blane, who pulled his Winston Churchill back from the brink of caricature and provided intelligent and humorous punctuation to the piece. The slightly held back approach from Raymond Coulthard as Bertie and Jason Donovan as Logue, did pay dividends when Bertie – now King George VI – finally let go, physically and verbally, and the concise energy of that movement section and the opening sequence, beautifully choreographing the morning toilette of the prince, showed the work of movement director Polly Bennett to advantage.
Bertie’s famous stammer seemed, from the start, more like frustrating hesitations, rather than full stuttering, and this meant the fuss made over it felt an over-reaction, with less at stake than there should have been. This reflected recordings of King George VI at a later stage, but did not allow a dramatic journey, nor seemed fully convincing as a pronounced stammer. That said, both leads were believable as people (if Donovan’s voice somewhat thin for a speech therapist actor), showing nuanced characterisation, and they brought their audience with them through the ups and downs of their relationship to personal and public triumph.
The staging of the play works pretty well, against a curved wall and floor of marquetry where doors open on two levels and a plush curtain can take centre stage as a backdrop. Planes, lights and mics drop as furnishings are carted on and off to appropriate, if uninspiring, period music, allowing scenes to shift from intimate office, to cosy home, to palatial dressing rooms, halls and coronation cathedral, with Nick Powell’s sound design reflecting the different acoustics of spaces as well as the ‘on air’ radio time. Tom Piper’s set and costume design embodies such different settings, bringing to an overall subdued feel touches of deep colour, in furnishings as well as grand paintings and stained glass windows.
The King’s Speech is a heartwarming story, told with some fine one-liners, and this Chichester Festival and Birmingham Repertory Theatres’ production, under Silbert’s direction, offers a tale of dedication, sacrifice and friendship. Perhaps it is losing a certain energy in touring – or has from the start been slightly hampered by a plodding quality – but it is still a strongly played piece, worth the watching.
18 – 23 May, 19:30 (21:50) + 20 & 23 May, 14:30 (16:50) @ King’s Theatre