THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III
by Alan Bennett.
Blackeyed Theatre Company, Icarus Theatre Collective and Original Theatre Company, in association with South Hill Park, Eastbourne Theatres and Anvil Arts Tour to 27 November 2010.
Runs 2hr 55min One Interval.
Review: Mark Courtice 16 September at Haymarket Theatre Basingstoke.
A not particularly exciting madness.
In 1788 George III appeared to be going mad, provoking a constitutional crisis in Parliament and hope in the heart of the Prince of Wales, chafing under the constraint of merely commentating on matters aesthetic rather than getting on with the more exciting business of being King.
Bennett draws obvious parallels with our times. The politics of Parliamentary arithmetic and overpaid doctors obsessed with stools – these strike contemporary sparks, even if our doctors have slightly less bizarre cures. Otherwise, the play’s interest in the mechanics of 18th Century royalty seems academic, even while provoking some trademark Bennett witty one-liners.
George wasn’t particularly exciting, being a hard-working sovereign, good husband and father (except towards the Prince). Possibly a victim of the hereditary disease porphyria, poor George underwent the tortures of the damned in the search for a cure, until nature took its course and he recovered.
Simon Ward’s careful, unshowy performance creates a believable man; dull and obsessive but dignified and concerned about those around him. The dissolution of all this as the illness takes hold is thoughtfully delineated, but oddly unmoving.
Jamie Hinde gets a nice mixture of cold ambition and some deeper purpose as politician William Pitt, and Susan Penhaligon brings sensitivity and restraint to Queen Charlotte. Knight Mantell as the doctor, Willis, is nicely equivocal as a man as queasily cruel as his colleagues but whose tortures are mental rather than physical.
There’s some very uneven acting in the rest of the cast (many of them doubling parts), and this inconsistency is symptomatic of the production as a whole. The set largely consists of wrinkled curtains that hold up the action as they are drawn back and forth. Everything is a metre too far back, and crucial intimate scenes are played in front of the curtains, brutally lit.
Unfortunate design choices are continued with the costumes and wigs. There are more wrinkles in the hopsack versions of costumes from the most elegant period of English fashion, and the impressionistic wigs are rigid structures, which often obscure faces and don’t move when the head beneath them does.
King George: Simon Ward.
Queen Charlotte: Susan Penhaligon.
Prince of Wales: Alastair Whatley.
Duke of York: Garrett Moore.
Lady Pembroke/Nicholson: Portia Booroff.
Greville/Boothby: Robert Curtis.
Pitt/Pepys: Jamie Hinde.
Willis/Dundas: Knight Mantell.
Fitzroy/Ramsden: Rhys King.
Thurlow: Zachary Holton.
Papandiek: Kate Colebrook.
Baker/Sheridan: Courtney Spence.
Fox/Warren: Ian Marr.
Director: Alastair Whatley.
Designer: Victoria Spearing.
Lighting: Alan Valentine.
Costume: Fiona Davis.