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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Apollo Theatre


  Beruce Khan, Orlando James, David Haig and Ryan Saunders/ Ph: Robert Day

A government with a small majority tries to impose thrift on a faltering economy. Alan Bennett’s 1991 comedy should feel prescient and pertinent in coalition Britain. But in Christopher Luscombe’s revival, first staged at the Theatre Royal Bath, Bennett’s play looks witty but thin, a vehicle driven and dominated by a grandstanding central performance. Janet Bird’s production consists largely of empty picture or mirror frames, which seems apt not only because the play is about identity and self-worth, but also because it’s attitude to those subjects now seems a little glib.

Here, David Haig takes the role of George III, driven out of his wits by porphyria, and kept there by inept doctors until former clergyman Francis Willis (Clive Francis) teaches him to master himself. Haig has always been an emphatic actor, giving the impression of pent-up, desperate energy. Here the king’s early pep and bluster seems a clear sign of what’s to come, while his anger and rage when raving are extreme. He barely tones it down for the soft bedroom scenes with Beatie Edney’s Charlotte, where the royal couple sweetly address one another as Mr and Mrs King. It’s a bravura, charismatic but unsubtle performance that blows the quietly twittering Francis, and the rest of the unusually large cast, off the stage.

Bennett’s script is tight and funny, and the verbal hops and jumps of the king’s demented speech (“mad, mad, mad-jesty!”) are well done. Some of the jokes feel too clever by half, such as the idea of the royal servant, Fortnum, quitting the court to set up a grocer’s shop. This is an able, agreeable-enough evening, but it makes you wonder how much the casting of Nigel Hawthorne as the King contributed to the huge success of the original National Theatre production and subsequent film.


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