What better day to see ‘The King’s Speech’ than Coronation Saturday? I was hooked from the opening scene of the play when a diffident Prince Albert is dressing for yet another ceremonial occasion, devoid of emotion, hopeless. Albert’s life is blighted by his stammer as he is in the shadow of his dying father and his brother. His life is one of dreary duty and painful public speaking. His wife, Elizabeth, Duchess of York (Amy Brangwyn), seeks out the help of a Harley Street speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The play is about an unusual friendship that develops between Bertie and Lionel.
The plot of ‘The King’s Speech’ is familiar to many but playwright, David Seidler, introduces a lot of new twists and some dark humour surrounding the death of King George V. We see the politicians and Archbishop Cosmo Lang involved in Machiavellian plotting as David, King Edward loses interest in the monarchy due to his infatuation with the American, Wallis Simpson.
Sibling rivalry between David and Bertie blight Albert’s life. David is always wrong-footing him with vicious ease. I wonder if Bertie’s father would have been less of a formidable presence without his brother undermining him at every turn. Robin Fry and Suzanne Heritage are in their own little bubble as David and Wallis Simpson. Yearning for influence after abdication, they could have taken Britain down a very different and dangerous path in World War II.
Bertie emerges as the rightful king and he has a lot to prove. ‘The King’s Speech’ is a delightful mix of an intimate friendship that develops between two men and a political thriller with Britain on the brink of war. Seidler brings the context of the play to life, providing insight and depth as he raises questions about what would have happened if Edward had not abdicated.
Chris Parke, as Lionel Logue, the Speech Therapist, is everything you want him to be – Bertie’s confidant, asking incessant questions to release the shame and inferiority that ties Bertie’s tongue. He is humane, incisive and persistent.
Emmie Spencer is very convincing as Myrtle Logue and introduces another subplot about belonging which is not seen in the film.
Peter Jukes comes into his own in the second half as Archbishop Cosmo Lang and proves himself to be more of a schemer than all the politicians put together in ‘The King’s Speech.’ He injects humour as Seidler allows himself some gentle digs at the Church.
However, Lewis Todhunter must be applauded for his performance. He is suave, arrogant and yet crippled by self-doubt in equal measure. While Chris Parke is steady and constant, we see many different facets of Bertie’s character. Until Bertie meets Lionel, he has no anchor which Lewis Todhunter captures with ease. No-one tells Bertie how to behave. He is a tortured soul who wins hearts. During his speech in the final scene, every face is pregnant with emotion, willing him to succeed and the atmosphere in the room is palpable.
You may already know the plot of ‘The King’s Speech’ and you may have seen the film. But go and see this fresh production written by David Seidler. It is a masterpiece and the company at Brighton Little Theatre should be rightly proud of their accomplishment.
Five stars *****