Most people saw the film, and a lot of people watched the original stage play in the West End, but The King’s Speech deserves a revival for a provincial tour, if only to allow audiences to see former soap star Jason Donovan give a career best performance.
The new production, from Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Rep, opened its UK tour at Chichester tonight, and it is an absolute triumph.
Stage and screen star Raymond Coulthard gives a superb performance as the vulnerable Bertie, royalty’s second son, whose bullying family had bestowed upon him a horrendous stutter.
While a barely recognisable Jason Donovan has put away the glitz and song-sheets from starring in a string of stage musicals, to mature into a top class character actor.
Both men give hugely compelling and powerful performances that brought the audience to its feet on opening night.
We first meet Bertie, the pampered Duke of York, as he is dressed and prepared for possibly his first public speech.
Standing there in his richly braided uniform he stares into a mirror. “I look like a Christmas tree!” He groans.
Bertie is crippled with nerves and both angry and frustrated at his inability to speak clearly. His overbearing father, King George, and Bertie’s brother, David, when not playing around with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, cruelly mock B..B…Bertie.
A desperate Elizabeth seeks help for her husband and, after scanning the small ads, she finds herself on Harley Street consulting failed actor and untrained speech therapist Lionel Logue.
With a thoroughly unorthodox approach Logue (Donovan) works to help the prince conquer his demons.
The men’s relationship is uneasy, fractured, initially embarrassing and exceptionally unconventional.
Logue is a typical Aussie with little respect for royal protocol while Bertie struggles with commonplace behaviour. The mis-matched pair fit together perfectly.
Coulthard, jaw firmly jutting with anger and defiance throughout, keeps the stammer and nervous tics under control to deliver an impressive and restrained performance.
Claire Lams’ Elizabeth, our future Queen Mother, was uncannily familiar. Her clipped vowels and regal deportment unerringly accurate.
And David Seidler’s story is packed with warmth and humour. At one point Bertie, now King George and preparing for his coronation, dances furiously around the room while shouting out a string of expletives. He would be unlikely to score highly on Strictly but it brought the house down.
Nicholas Blane, as Winston Churchill, forms an unlikely comedy double act with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang (Martin Turner) as the pair passed judgement on the failings of royalty.
There’s more subtle humour to be found when Logue’s feisty wife Myrtle (Katy Stephens) comes home to find her husband entertaining the Duchess Of York in their shabby living room.
Tom Piper’s simple set (featuring some beautiful marquetry) is superficially a stark and generally empty sound studio but is imaginatively transformed with a few props into Logue’s house, Westminter Cathedral and Balmoral.
The King’s Speech, delivered as Britain is on the brink of war with Germany, is incredibly moving.
A masterful piece of story-telling.
Playing at Chichester Festival Theatre until Saturday then touring.
2015 Tour Dates
February 25-March 7, Birmingham Repertory Theatre March 9-14, Cambridge Arts Theatre March 16-21, Theatre Royal, Glasgow March 30-April 4, Manchester Opera House April 7-11, New Victoria Theatre, Woking April 13-18, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield April 21-25, Grand Opera House, Belfast April 27-May 2, Malvern Theatre May 5-9, Milton Keynes Theatre May 11-16, Oxford Playhouse May 18-25, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh May 26-30, Grand Theatre, Leeds June 1-6, Hall for Cornwall, Truro