SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
THE KING’S SPEECH
2 hours 10 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 28 JUNE 2019
The 2010 film ‘The King’s Speech’ was the big winner at the Academy Awards the following year – quite rightly so. Writer, David Seidler, thereafter, crafted a stage play from his screenplay which had a short tour of the UK in London before a two-month run in the West End in 2012 and was revived in 2015 starring one Jason Donovan.
Telling the story of the future King George VI’s battle to overcome his stammer with the help of Australian therapist, Lionel Logue, the adaptation for the stage is almost as episodic as a film and so presents a real challenge for a director, especially on a stage the size of the Sidmouth’s Manor Pavilion Theatre. The play is rarely performed, maybe as a result of its complexity; a brave choice, maybe, for the second production in the Summer Play Festival.
Vast sections of rough-cast walls variously adorned with Royal crests, picture frames and rows of books, arranged at angles, create an arresting first impression as does the black and white chequered floor – the action of the play moves about all over the place and this impressionistic design by Andrew Beckett does the perfect job.
As the play starts, Bertie (the Duke of York) is stood in front of a microphone, desperately trying to deliver a speech whilst under the watchful eyes of those of others who stand watching him under umbrellas – it is a stunning opening. It is one of a number of scenes which look like period paintings or photographs – the emphasis on monochrome emphasising a real period feel.
Let’s get it said now – this is a terrific production. Stylish, moving, engrossing and arresting. I was completely captivated by it – one of the productions of the year so far.
The production lives and dies by the quality of the performances from the actors playing Bertie and Logue. No problems here. As Bertie, Chris Casey is simply brilliant. Playing with a stammer is choc-full of pitfalls, but he pitches it perfectly and never overplays it. He has warmth and humour and vulnerability, which is why it is so engaging. Paul Lavers as the rather less than conventional Logue is spot-on with his combined bluntness and humility – the connection which the two build together makes the finale of the play so much more affecting.
The role of Logue’s wife, Myrtle, is rather more significant in the play than the film and her desire to return to Australia just gives another side to Logue’s commitment to Bertie. Erin Geraghty perfectly conveys her frustration at being stuck in a country she doesn’t feel at home in. As Bertie’s wife, Charlotte Haines gives a lovely performance as the suitably forthright and direct Elizabeth, the Duchess of York with her warmth and love for her husband shines through.
There is some fun to be had in the wonderful duologues between Archbishop Lang and Winston Churchill. Richard Stemp, as Lang, presents a sanctimonious and oleaginous prelate while Dominic McChesney has wonderfully pithy lines as Churchill – this is such an interesting characterisation; not an impersonation or an impression but a version of the statesman which relies on the lines of the script and it is so much better for that. The battle between church and state presents a fascinating, and very amusing, jousting match.
Excellent support also comes from Paul Cleveland in the form of the Hitler-sympathising, loud, rather obnoxious Prince of Wales – the future King Edward VIII – the brothers could not have been less alike on so many levels. As the bluff, blunt King George V, Christopher Lyne has immense authority – the same actor appears later as Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister for whom the abdication crisis was just too much – a well-judged and sympathetic portrayal of a hopeless situation.
The lighting created some beautiful moments and with the use of excellently chosen music and recordings, this became a visual and aural feast. Huge credit to Stage Technical Services Ltd, who had their work cut out here.
However, no one had to prepare more and be ready to deliver this enormously complex play so quickly, than director, Robert McWhir. Unfussy, fluid, inspired and restrained – all elements of this production which should be applauded to the rafters. Direction of great skill.
This is a production which deserves to be seen by as many people as possible – locals, and people from further afield should be flocking to Sidmouth. Productions of this calibre are not seen in every theatre in major cities, let alone in a quiet seaside town and it needs to be appreciated.
The audience were entranced and engrossed from beginning to end and the feeling was that they had witnessed something rather special.
An outstanding production.
BERTIE, DUKE OF YORK – CHRIS CASEY
LIONEL LOGUE – PAUL LAVERS
ELIZABETH, DUCHESS OF YORK – CHARLOTTE HAINES
MYRTLE LOGUE – ERIN GERAGHTY
ARCHBISHOP LANG – RICHARD STEMP
WINSTON CHURCHILL – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
DAVID, PRINCE OF WALES – PAUL CLEVELAND
KING GEORGE V/STANLEY BALDWIN – CHRISTOPHER LYNE
WRITER – DAVID SEIDLER
DIRECTOR – ROBERT MCWHIR
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCERS – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS, STUART BURROWS, JONNY CLINES