Sunday, 26 February 2012

The King's Speech

Yesterday was one of those glorious, clear, sunny days you sometimes get at this time of year, with a bright, cloudless blue sky, and brilliant sunshine (if not much warmth).

I walked into town, through the park, where there are hundreds of snowdrops, and a river of purple and white crocuses. I think Spring may really have arrived!
I spent the day catching up with housework, and cooking. I made some rice pudding (the rice came in bag with the labelling "Pudding rice : ideal for rice pudding" which seemed a little redundant, but which was correct, of course) It's a long time since I have made real rice pudding, and it was just as delicious as I remembered, even though an slight error of timing meant I ended up eating it at 4.30 in the afternoon!
In the evening, I headed into Bath again, to the Theatre Royal, to see 'The King's Speech', by David Seidler. I gather that he originally wrote it as a play, although it was not staged, and was then re-written as a film, so this is not 'the play of the film', exactly. I have not yet seen the film version, (other than a few clips), but I think this was perhaps a good thing, as it meant I wasn't comparing the two.

The play opens with 'Bertie', Duke of York (Charles Edwards) standing naked before a mirror - in the 'reflection' he stands in full dress uniform with medals, orders, and masses of gold braid - the scene giving an immediate impression of how vulnerable he is feeling. The next scene shows his painful efforts to deliver a speech with his father, King George V (Joss Ackland) an unsympathetic observer.
The play then follows the Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth (Emma Fielding), and later the Duke as they make their first contact with Lionel Logue (Jonathan Hyde), and then switches between the King's work with Logue, Logue's (failed) auditions for serious acting roles, scenes between Logue and his wife, Myrtle (Charlotte Randall), who is homesick for Australia, and desperate to return, and scenes involving the Prime Minister, Baldwin (David Killick) Churchill (Ian McNeice), Archbishop Cosmo Lang (Michael Feast) and Edward VII (Daniel Betts) and Mrs Simpson (Lisa Baird).

'David' (Edward VII) is portrayed as both cruel and selfish - mocking his brother for his stammer, dancing and drinking champagne with Wallis Simpson within weeks of his father's death, and having dangerously close links to Hitler and his regime.

Charles Edwards does an excellent job of portraying the King, as a man with a strong sense of duty, crippled by his consciousness of his own failings, with little ability to interact with others except through the rigidity of court protocol, and ultimately very lonely. There is a moment where Logue speaks about how men behave with their friends. "I wouldn't know", responds the King.

His frustration at his inability to speak fluently is projected, not only through his outbursts when pushed by Logue, but also with physical tics. He also comes across as a keen thinker - incisive in determining the title to be given to his brother following the abdication, for instance, and as a man who, while determined to do what he sees as his duty, is not prepared to be pushed around.

Jonathan Hyde's Logue is also a well-drawn and believable character, his confidence in his ability to help the King contrasting with his repeated failure to succeed in his ambition to become an actor.
The other characters were less nuanced; Queen Elizabeth came across as rather cold and acidic, and Archbishop Lang as a power-hungry snob.

There were a few jarring moments in the play. For me,  Bertie telling Logue that King George V was euthanized by his doctor, didn’t feel right (We know that this is historically accurate, but it’s not clear that Bertie would have known at the time – it only became commonly known when the Doctor’s diary was made public in 1986 – and his apparent acceptance of it seems inconsistent with  the character of a man who viewed as treason, or very near, any speculation that he might one day be King)

 There were also one or two other minor points which struck me as slightly off: Shortly after the abdication, in a scene between the King and Churchill, Churchill sits down, uninvited. I don’t claim to be an expert on 1930’s Royal protocol, but I don’t think that anyone gets to sit down while the King stands, unless invited to do so. Especially this King, who points out the need for people to be five paces away when they speak to him.

I also found the constantly revolving giant frame/screen in the centre of the stage to be, at times distracting.

However, despite these minor quibbles, I very much enjoyed the play. I felt that Charles Edwards in particular, really shone. The only other thing I am aware of having seen him in was Holy Flying Circus, but I shall certainly be looking out for him in future!

And I think I shall now borrow the DVD and watch the screen version, to see how that compares.

1 comment:

spacedlaw said...

Such an interesting period, it must make for a poignant play (I haven't seen the movie either).