The King's Speech: stage play brings comic breath of fresh air

Apr 2, 2012

And the backers must also be laughing, knowing they have a sure-fire hit on their hands


What you need to know
The King's Speech is a stage version of the 2010 Oscar-winning film staring Colin Firth about King George VI's struggle to overcome a speech impediment.

David Seidler originally wrote the story for the stage before developing the screenplay, but the play only received its world premiere in February this year at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, Surrey, directed by former RSC boss Adrian Noble. The production has now moved to the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End.

The story is based on the true story of King George V (Bertie) and his battle to conquer his debilitating stammer with the help of maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. In this stage version, Charles Edwards plays the king, with Australian-born Jonathan Hyde as speech therapist Logue, and Emma Fielding as Queen Elizabeth.

What the critics like
The two key roles of this play are thrillingly inhabited, says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. A superb performance by Charles Edwards as Bertie is at the heart of this production, while Jonathan Hyde is "splendidly dry" as Logue. There's also assured work around them, chiefly from Emma Fielding as Bertie's pert wife Elizabeth. This is "a slick, appealing package".

It stands up better as a live event than most film adaptations do, says Caroline McGinn in Time Out. The stage version is reassuringly familiar and well-drawn, yet gains in comedy and immediacy. Seidler's rewrite also brings "a bigger breath of proletarian fresh air".

Rather than exploiting the success of the film, the play allows Seidler to more fully realise his ambition for the story, says Demetrios Matheou at The Arts Desk. Departing from his screenplay, Seidler has put meat on the historical and political context of his story and given greater depth to supporting characters. This is no "pale shadow of the film", but a thematically richer, "equally delightful experience".

What they don't like
Like the stuttering hero, the play starts jerkily, with lots of disjointed, bitty scenes, says Zoe Craig at Londonist. The second act picks up the momentum and Adrian Noble directs with a deft touch. "But for all its elegance and stiffly executed wit, this is a terribly safe play" and it's hard to say it adds much to the already brilliant film.

There is something a bit self-satisfied about any stage production riding on the coat-tails of Oscar glory, says Ben Dowell for The Stage. And while David Seidler's clever play came before the film "it is hard to see this revival as anything more than a money-spinner". A lot of the first night chuckles probably came from backers realising they have a hit on their hands.

Perhaps this production came a little too soon, says Theo Bosanquet for What's On Stage. Either way, it's a very decent addition to the 'Royal play' canon. "I can't pretend I got dewy-eyed at the mawkish Elgar-infused finale, but there are plenty who will."

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