Review: The King's Speech - Richmond Theatre

The King's Speech
Richmond Theatre

Monday 5th March 2012: Having repeatedly watched the film on television with various family members over the Christmas period, I wasn’t sure that there’d be anything new to be had from seeing the theatrical version of The King’s Speech. It may be a cliché, but how wrong I was.

David Seidler’s work initially began life as a play before being turned into the multi-award winning film version we are familiar with, for which Colin Firth won an Oscar. However, whilst obviously missing those huge crowd scenes at Wembley Stadium and Buckingham Palace, and the sense they conveyed of the future king’s terrifyingly public role, there was surprisingly little to be lost, and much to be gained, in seeing the stage version.

The stately Victorian theatre in Richmond was the perfect setting for a royal tale, yet the stage itself was also impressively high-tech, incorporating a revolving picture frame that gave each scene an intimate, personal quality, as well as at times allowing two scenes to progress simultaneously. The technique allowed the audience a much closer relationship with the characters and impressed upon us more strongly the difficulties of Bertie’s attempts to find his voice among the throng of domineering royals, politicians and church dignitaries officiously directing him.

The intricacies of the relationship between Bertie and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue were, I felt, more finely drawn, with Charles Edwards moving effortlessly throughout from frustration to bluster to anger to tears and Jonathan Hyde clearly having a ball as the outspoken Antipodean. There was also much more background to Logue’s story here: his relationship with his wife Myrtle and his unrealised dreams of acting leant his character elements of conflict and division that highlighted the unexpected similarities between him and Bertie.

It was also interesting to see greater emphasis placed on the political turbulence of the period, with more explicit reference made to Edward VIII’s sympathies with the Nazi party, Churchill’s plan to form a rival ‘King’s Party’ to Stanley Baldwin’s government, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang’s similar secret desires for power and leadership. Michael Feast was particularly amusing as the scheming, officious Archbishop, whilst Ian McNiece was simply born to play Winston Churchill.

The only thing I felt slightly lacking from the play was the presence of Princess, and later Queen, Elizabeth. The scenes and lines she had were delivered expertly by Emma Fielding, yet I felt her presence as Bertie’s only reassurance was less emphatic than in the film, leaving him more isolated than ever. This was a minor quibble though, as there was much to enjoy in her charmingly haughty exchanges with Logue and the scandal-inducing Wallis Simpson, as well as the highly amusing scene in which Logue persuades her to sit on her husband’s stomach whilst he practises breathing exercises.

As a whole, the production was greatly enjoyable, with excellent performances from the lead actors and a script that developed rather than reproduced the film version. If, as I did, you feel you’ve seen all this story has to offer, I’d urge you to reconsider.

Tour Dates
Richmond Theatre 5 - 10 March 2012
Newcastle Theatre Royal 12 - 17 March 2012
Wyndham's Theatre from 22 March 2012

Review by Emma Curry