The King’s Speech
Grand Opera House
until Saturday 25th April 2015
We had the great pleasure of welcoming playwright David Seidler to the Grand Opera House on Tuesday to join the audience on the opening night of his play The King’s Speech.
Talking to him before the curtain up was fascinating, between taking calls from New York and London trying to sort out a ‘deal’, he explained that as a boy he had a stammer and so identified with George VI and took a great interest in his story of consulting with, and eventually becoming a close friend of, the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.
The play was given a rehearsed reading in an Islington Theatre in 2008 basically for the benefit of the writer and a few producers who might be interested. Well, they were. Not only theatre producers but film producers as well, and the resulting film which starred Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush has been a huge success.
It was interesting to hear that as Seidler was working on his script in the 1970s he found Lionel Logue’s son who opened his father’s archives, but insisted the writer got the permission from the Queen Mother before going any further and it turned out that she did not want him to continue his work in her lifetime so he abandoned the project. For her it had been an unhappy turn of events that catapulted her husband onto the throne and into the limelight and caused him so much stress. He died in 1952 at the early age of 56.
Although the film is impressive, the stage play is captivating, much more personal, a chance to hold our breath as the king (Raymond Coulthard) attempts to get his words out. The tensions build up between him and his therapist (Jason Donovan) and the two men from such differing backgrounds came to understand each other and form a lasting friendship. Lionel Logue understood the king’s frustration at not being able to achieve perfection because he had suffered the same rejection in his quest to become an actor.
The cast in this play become the court that surround the king. Archbishop Cosmo Lang (Martin Turner) Winston Churchill (Nicholas Blane) and Stanley Baldwin (William Hoyland). His wife, later the Queen Mother, is royally played by Claire Lams and Myrtle Logue (Katy Stephens) is her foil with a skip and a step and an outward show of love Queen Elizabeth could only dream of. And there was the culprit himself, David, Edward VIII (Jamie Hinde) and his scheming lover Wallis Simpson (Felicity Houlbrooke). When the government asked the various colonies what they thought of the proposed marriage of David and Wallis, they also sent the question to Ireland. Their reply (roughly) – we don’t care if he marries the whore or not – brought the house down!
There are two stars in this production – the cast as a whole and the set. A semicircle of rectangular wooden blocks all fitting together to give a background of different types and colours of wood but concealed in this wall are doors, windows high up for the BBC announcer to broadcast and in the second act, these walls revealed half a dozen portraits of past kings and queens and at the back a stain glass window which sets the scene for the coronation.
The most moving moment comes at the end of the evening when on 3rd September 1939 Great Britain declared war on Germany and the king addressed the nation – without a stammer. He had learned to take his time, use buzz words between sentences, some of them very unkinglike! He succeeded in reaching his goal with the help of probably his only, certainly his best friend. It was moving, I was in tears, David Seidler was in tears and the audience rose to their feet in appreciation.
Sophisticated theatrical treat.
By Anne Hailes