‘The King’s Speech’ in the West End

The posters lining the tube escalators urge you to come and see the play that inspired the film, a slogan designed to snare fans of the Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech. It’s also a slightly double-edged sword because it puts pressure on the stage version to be as good, even if the script was originally meant for the stage. However, the play has held its own.

The King’s Speech follows the story of how Bertie, Duke of York (pictured left), overcame his stammer with the help of Australian speech therapist, and failed actor, Lionel Logue (pictured right). A story which also runs alongside and coincides with his brother King Edward VIII’s affair with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, his abdication, the subsequent accession of Bertie to the throne, as George VI, and the descent of Europe into World War II.

Just as Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush made the relationship between Bertie and Lionel Logue electric; so too did Charles Edwards (Bertie) and Jonathan Hyde (Lionel). The pair’s comic timing was excellent and their repartee delivered superbly. Hyde particularly stood out, inhabiting the role of the slightly eccentric, compassionate and wise Lionel well. He created a character that really warmed the cockles of your heart while tugging the heartstrings too.

In fact a key difference between the movie and the play is that it delves more into Lionel’s story and that of his wife Myrtle. It puts a stronger emphasis on how consuming the royal role and the fanfare surrounding it is as it strongly affects Myrtle’s life and tests her relationship with Lionel. The stage also lends itself well to the scenes where Lionel auditions repeatedly for Shakespearian roles and fails, being the direct audience to his unsuccessful attempts to achieve his dreams engages our sympathies more deeply.

Edwards and Hyde weren’t the only stars of the show though and it would be remiss of me not to mention Ian McNeice’s solid and playful performance as Winston Churchill or Michael Feast’s dastardly turn as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Special mention should also go to the set designers for creating a simple, yet effective revolving set set around a giant frame that served many roles, such as a television screen and room divider, well.

However, the play wasn’t perfect. I felt in places that scenes were rushed and too small, thus diminishing their intended emotional impact and the dialogue was stilted and even slightly unbelievable in places. For instance when Bertie first meets Lionel, he changes from shocked at the impudence of Lionel, to pouring his heart out too suddenly and unconvincingly. Another criticism  is that I did not feel that the play was really building up towards a particular climax, it sort of strolled along merrily, before jumping up with an emotive culmination of all the characters’ efforts.

All in all, this funny, thought-provoking show is well worth booking a seat for. It’s not enough to have just seen the film, this play has some different perspectives to offer on this heart-warming story.

The King’s Speech is running until 12 May at:

Wyndham’s Theatre
32 Charing Cross Road
Covent Garden

Tel: 0844 482 5120

Image by Tristram Kenton

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