Last year’s musical Betty Blue Eyes was based around celebrations for the 1947 Royal Wedding and was fortuitously provided with another one. But sadly even with this marketing fillip it failed to fly (or convince us that pigs can).
And now in this Jubilee year comes another royal-themed offering The King’s Speech which in its film incarnation went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards though Phil maintains that the even more enjoyable and superior The Social Network was robbed.
And later in the year the Olympics-themed Chariots of Fire (another Best Film Oscar-winner) will grace the Hampstead Theatre. This is unlikely to be the last Olympic themes adaptation and the Whingers are holding their breaths in the hope that a musical adaptation of Marathon Man might be on the cards. Well, Little Shop of Horrors managed a number about dentistry, so why not?
Anyway, this The King’s Speech is the David Seidler “play that started it all”. Seidler went on to win the Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards just as Colin Firth famously nabbed the Best Actor door-stop. No pressure for Charles Edwards then, who takes on the role of the stammering prince Bertie forced into the position of becoming a King (George VI) when his brother opts for the lap of Mrs Simpson rather than a seat on the throne.
But the fact that he’s not Colin Firth is to Edwards’ advantage. Not only is he very good in the part but being a less familiar face it’s easier to accept his performance.
The play’s best moments are without doubt the central interchanges and the relationship-building speech therapy sessions he has with Jonathan Hyde‘s (also excellent) Lionel Logue. Most of the other brief scenes are ripped through at such a place they sometimes seem little more than Tussauds’ tableaux, especially in the early stages of the play.
The elegant set (Anthony Ward) twirls like a Dervish presenting – among others – Stanley Baldwin (David Killick), reliable Winston Churchill impersonator Ian McNeice and Joss Ackland, still commanding the boards as King George V even though he passes on halfway through Act 1, thus passing on his title.
At one point Edward (Daniel Betts) and Mrs Simpson (Lisa Baird) dance behind the set’s main picture-framed scrim which revolves at such a pace Bertie and the Queen Mum-to-be (Emma Fielding) are forced to walk the turntable at a rather un-regal pace to complete a circuit of the stage. We declare it a photo-finish.
And though the central characters’ wives get a decent crack at building their characters (Charlotte Randle is a charming Myrtle Logue, a part considerably more developed than in the film) the other supporting actors are left with little to work with.
Understandably, with that in mind, it didn’t stop Michael Feast. His Archbishop of Canterbury is a presentiment of Occupy London outside St Paul’s Cathedral as he sets up his own extravagant camp row of tents at Westminster Abbey. Talk about giving mincing a bad name. We were not amused.
But we were compensated by an appearance of the Stone of Scone. It’s always a treat to see the Stone of Scone (the Whingers like theirs with jam and clotted cream) make an appearance on stage, however briefly.
TKS looks like it could occupy the Wyndham’s Theatre for some time but the Whingers are campaigning for it to be transferred to one of the many more suitably titled theatres: the Duke of York’s, The Duchess, The Prince of Wales, The Prince Edward or even The Queen’s or Her Majesty’s.
Coming in at just over two hours (including interval) Adrian Noble has directed to make the play just as amusing and engaging as the celluloid incarnation, though Phil wondered why the most memorable line from King George VI after his final make-or-break speech was omitted from the play. In the film when Logue mentions “a stammer on the W” the King replied, “Well I had to throw in a few so they knew it was me.”
But Edwards delivers his speech so convincingly and movingly at the end and with overcoming adversity always being such a crowd-pleaser it drew applause from the audience; at the curtain call many ovated.
Phil was taken back to his days at the Theatre Royal Brighton when Hazel Dorling would tickle The National Anthem out of her ivories at the end of each performance. It’s no reflection on The King’s Speech to wonder whether they were on their feet for the performance or the King.
Or perhaps their united state might offer a clue to where these people came from.