For a play about not very much, The King’s Speech is strangely compelling. There can’t be many people who haven’t seen the hugely successful film, but it’s worth noting that the play came first and works well on stage. We see Bertie (the eventual King) struggle to overcome his stammer, and the play builds up to his big speech after war has been declared on Germany. So far, so simple. The cast, though, give each character a humanity that could easily be lacking: Lionel Logue, the speech therapist, for example, is given subtle and conflicted life by Jonathan Hyde. We see his professional interactions and his home relationship with his wife, and through the both we are offered a well-rounded man who struggles to do the right thing while shelving his dreams. It is a funny, tender and poignant performance, matched by Charlotte Randle as his self-sacrificing wife.
Charles Edwards as Bertie is superb, too, nicely balancing his insecurities with the trappings of power and an explosive temper. It is easy to believe in Bertie, and easy to empathise with him, which means that Edwards has done an excellent job. In his up-tight way he is a warm and compassionate man, and the script and direction paint the royal family in a rather rosy glow. If one puts aside one’s thoughts about the royal family as an institution and concentrates on the characters themselves, it is a satisfying – though schmaltzy – story.
A couple of criticisms, though, mostly to do with the staging: done entirely on a revolve, the stage whizzes around, characters dash on and off (sometimes popping onstage for two lines at a time) and it feels rather rushed. Yes, the speeches themselves are necessarily slow – you try gabbling with a stutter – but the play hurtles along and overall feels hasty. The revolve was over-used and the incredibly frequent scene changes made it rather choppy and occasionally harder to follow than was necessary.
The stirring strains of Elgar’s Enigma Variations accompanied the final, valedictory speech of the title, and here we crossed a line: it was a fine production of an interesting play, but the gloss put onto the end was too much for me. In trying to manipulate patriotic feeling the pudding was over-egged, and it got slightly lost in its own sense of pomp. However, overall, this a successful and entertaining production, which mostly stayed on the right side of sentimental, and which manages to transcend comparisons with the brilliant recent film.
The Kings Speech is booking at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 21 July. For more information and to book tickets, see the Official Kings Speech The Play website.