THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III
by Alan Bennett.
Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 7EZ To 31 March 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4658.
Review: Carole Woddis 23 January.
Still crazy, and worth seeing, after all these years.
Alan Bennett’s humane and sharp account of King George III’s descent into something close to mania has had many manifestations since its original performance and has now arrived in the West End apparently none the worse for its extended autumn tour. Its presence adds lustre to a West End still short on a solid evening of straight drama and boasts at its heart a performance by David Haig that manages sprightliness and pathos without falling into sentimentality.
Haig, often under-rated, can convey comic sincerity like no other. His `Farmer’ George beams at Beatie Edney’s `Mrs King’ with a warmth and bonhomie all the more touching for his subsequent descent into the Tourette-like illness that took another two hundred years to be diagnosed as the blood-related porphyria.
Bennett’s original started life at the National Theatre in a version longer by at least half an hour and considerably more baited with political barbs. Timothy Luscombe’s able if prosaic Theatre Royal Bath production for the Peter Hall Company still manages to arouse a certain amount of veiled mischief on politicking, government and radicalism versus pragmatism. That a nation’s constitution can hang or fall by the state of a royal individual’s bowel movement or colour of his piss is a situation Bennett can’t resist in exploiting.
Thus The Madness of George III manages to be both an extended subtle critique of monarchy whilst comically excoriating the barbaric `medical’ means brought to bear on the unfortunate king. His trio of 18th doctors would not look out of place in Ben Jonson’s Alchemist.
Luscombe musters an impressively vast, mostly male, cast to augment Haig’s thundering central performance, with Clive Francis especially acerbic as Willis, the Lincolnshire prelate turned doctor who, ahead of his time, recognised a straitjacket not only as a tool of terrible imprisonment but in George’s case, one of usefully submitting a spoilt brat used to having fawning obedience all around him to impose some necessary self-discipline.
That and George’s circumstances paralleling those of King Lear provide two of the evening’s most poignant and potent reasons for welcoming this Bennett classic back to the West End.
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.
The Madness of George III was first performed at the National Theatre on 28 November 1991. This production was first performed at the Theatre Royal Bath on 17 August 2011. First performance at the Apollo Theatre 19 January 2012.