THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III
by Alan Bennett.
Tour to 19 November 2011.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 September at Richmond Theatre.
A Madness it would be mad to miss – good play on this scale don’t come round often these days.
George III had reigned nearly 30 years when, in 1788, he apparently lost his reason. Medical science is now sure he had developed a genetic condition called porphyria, causing sudden physical pain, over-sensitive skin and psychiatric disorder. It struck George five times; Bennett focuses on the year of his first attack.
There are parallels, in the power-politics resulting from the king’s condition, with the 1991 play’s period and today, as Christopher Luscombe’s spare and pacey revival, from this year’s Peter Hall Company season in Bath, shows the impact of loss of central authority.
If the Whig opposition, supporting the Prince of Wales as Regent, had been more efficient they could have ended George’s rule before he recovered. And major issues, such as anti-slavery, stood behind the wrangling.
Medical power-struggles are equally virulent, as the establishment resist Clive Francis’s confident Lincolnshire proto-psychiatric Willis. All the squabbling doctors had it wrong (their earlier treatments might actually have provoked the porphyria).
Bennett emphasises George’s decency before the onset of illness: understanding the madness of a would-be assassin, remembering details about the people he’s appointed. Though he can also uphold standards by insisting a pregnant lady stand through a two-hour ceremony. But he’s not bad for 1788.
Busy as everyone is, moving though the arches of Janet Bird’s outline set, David Haig’s monarch crowns the show. As always, Haig’s manner is sharply-defined; emotion comes with thought, speech has an energy that can often shape the body.
His king begins briskly; he’s seen sitting straight-backed seat at his desk (every inch a working king, hence Prime Minister Pitt’s anxiety when he can’t sign papers), and ends progressing to resplendent Handel. Between lies the sickness, culminating in the indignity of a king whom doctors normally dare not speak to directly, let alone touch, being spreadeagled and tortured with blister-cures, his cries ignored.
It recalls Bennett’s depictions of the indignities of old-age in several TV dramas, and shows the fragile link between authority and physical condition, in a clear, well-considered drama on a scale rare in theatre these days, with good performances around the blazing central portrayal.
George III: David Haig.
Queen Charlotte: Beatie Edney.
Prince of Wales: Christopher Keegan.
Duke of York: William Belchambers.
Lady Pembroke: Charlotte Asprey.
Captain Fitzroy: Ed Cooper Clarke.
Captain Greville: Orlando James.
Papandiek: Beruce Khan.
Fortnum: Ryan Saunders.
Braun: Peter McGovern.
Prince’s Footman: Simon Markey.
Prince’s Valet: Gary Mackay.
William Pitt: Nicholas Rowe.
Lord Thurlow: Thomas Wheatley.
Henry Dundas: Richard Hansell.
Charles James Fox: Gary Oliver.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Patrick Moy.
Sir George Baker: Peter Pacey.
Dr Richard Warren: Madhav Sharma.
Sir Lucas Pepys: John Webb.
Dr Francis Willis: Clive Francis.
Margaret Nicholson: Karren Winchester.
Dr Willis’s Servant: Chris McCalphy.
Dr Warren’s Servant: Haseeb Malik.
Director: Christopher Luscombe.
Designer: Janet Bird.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Mic Pool.
Composer: Malcolm KcKee.
Voice/Dialect coach: Martin McKellan.
Movement: Jane Gibson.
Fight director: Andrew Ashenden.
Assistant director: Alison Convey.