Review – The King’s Speech – Wyndhams Theatre

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The last two years have really changed how I decide what shows I want to see. Before, it was a blog post from a trusted source: now, it is far more likely to be a breathless post-show tweet from one of a short list of people I follow and have flagged as simpatico to my tastes.

Or, in this case, it’s a show I might have dismissed as riding on a movie’s coattails, only someone I know off Twitter (actor Adam Lilley) has been writing about it from audition through tour through early closing notices (last week). So The King’s Speech was higher in my sights than it might have been: still, even though it was just around the corner from my new work, I hadn’t been in a rush to see it: then the people running the Twitter account wrote me and asked if I’d like comps to review it. Well, you know, it was clearly time to get off of my chair and go, although I was disturbed by how quickly it was closing. Why the struggle to sell seats? Was it bad? The tour sounded like it had gone well … what was the problem? Did it not hold up against the movie? I had never seen it, so I’d be approaching it from a fresh perspective – with luck, this would work in the show’s favor.

Fresh from my night out, I’m happy to say The King’s Speech is a well acted, enjoyable play that surpassed both of the West End shows I’d seen in the previous week (Hayfever at the Noel Coward and Making Noises Quietly at the Donmar Warehouse) and was well worth taking the time to see. I found myself sucked into the plot and the “what happens next”-ness: it’s set as the Nazis are rising to power and the question of what would happen if Great Britain were ruled by a fascist sympathizer was quite … well, emotional, even though the monarchy is portrayed as having a whole lot less to do with “rule” and more to do with “morale.” But Great Britain (during the time period of this play) is a country that’s about to need a lot of work in the morale zone … and with the war and the Blitz on the horizon, suddenly you, too, want to see that someone who actually cares about the people (and not just about nice clothes and champagne) is holding down the position.

I was also very involved with the struggles between the various personalities. While I learned a lot about the battles within both the cabinet (well, amongst the monarch’s advisors) and within the monarch’s (monarchs’ ?) family, I was utterly absorbed not so much by these historical figures as by the struggles between therapist Lionel Logue (Jonathan Hyde) and patient “Mr Johnson” (a.k.a. the Duke of York and later George VI, Charles Edwards ). Logue was trying to get Mr. Johnson to deal with him as a person, not in the stand-offish way “royals” acted with the plebes and even their own family (as near as I can tell); Mr. Johnson was so caught up in the prison of his role and family (none of which he could discuss in therapy!) that he couldn’t work on the problem that was making his life hell. Logue’s attempts to draw out Bertie (as he’s finally called) were the kind of personal manipulation I love to see on stage: as intense as Frost/Nixon, but done out of care for the individual (rather than a desire to gain power).

I also loved Logue and his wife’s presentation as people who had just moved beyond all of that silly class stuff (thanks to being Australian): when the Duchess of York (“Mrs Johnson,” first name Elizabeth, Emma Fielding) winds up in Mrs. Logue’s kitchen, I could just hear Myrtle (Charlotte Randle) complaining to her husband, “I have never been treated so rudely in my life!” (Although in fact she did not say this, displaying a bit more grace than I thought Elizabeth deserved.) Frankly I was a bit sad at Myrtle’s giving up her dream of going back home; it was the only false note in the night.

I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to see this show. It’s a good theatrical presentation, with a compelling narrative and fine acting – with a bonus history lesson for those of us who are a bit weak about what was happening in the UK in the thirties. I can only imagine it’s not selling well because people feel over exposed to the story – but it is a very fine play. Tickets are now easily available in the £20 range, and it absolutely delivers value in that price range. If you’re looking for a good night’s entertainment, don’t hesitate to go as it’s closing May 12th.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, April 30th, 2012. It closes May 12th.)

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