Those seeking a theatrical definition of style over substance could do worse than to visit new West End drama The King’s Speech. In a gorgeously sumptuous and elegant production, there are some moments of outstanding performance, some sparkling verbal wit in the dialogue, and astonishing visual acuity in the direction. All of which almost make up for the sometimes gauche script, the superfluous and underdeveloped plethora of supporting characters and a somewhat reductivist version of history.
David Seidler’s play presents, rather peculiarly, as an early draft of his award-winning film. It shines in places, specifically the precision and affection he employs when detailing the relationship between Charles Edwards’ fractious, volatile King and Jonathan Hyde’s bellicose Lionel Logue. As the emotional and dramatic crux of the play, these scenes are played with forensic clarity by the two actors, but elsewhere, the play seems littered with unnecessary characters and residuary scenes – better suited to a film adaptation of the play. The women, particularly, fare badly. Emma Fielding’s witty, assured Queen Elizabeth is barely more than a cipher to dispense barbed one-liners, Lisa Baird’s Wallis Simpson is presented as a silent chorus girl, while Charlotte Randle’s Myrtle Logue is saddled with an irrelevant side plot and a cringe-inducing resolution, better suited to a 1940’s musical.
scenes flow into one another with speed as Anthony Ward’s gorgeous ebony picture frame set revolves and rotates
Fortunately the weaknesses in the script are more than made up for by Adrian Noble’s exquisite direction. Noble balances the play’s harder political edge with humour and wit. Wisely keeping the pace up, scenes flow into one another with speed as Anthony Ward’s gorgeous ebony picture frame set revolves and rotates concealing and revealing, providing a lucid compliment to Noble’s vision of the play as the story of a friendship between two men from very different backgrounds.
Mic Pool’s sound design provides moments of compelling resonance and Mark Henderson’s lighting further enhances the themes of division and reconciliation.
In a restrained, pitch-perfect performance, Edwards is exceptional; riveting and beautiful and in this he is evenly matched by Hyde. Noble entices two intelligent, thoughtful performances from his leads, which makes one wonder why Seidler, having said “The King’s Speech is basically two men in a room” didn’t simply focus on telling that story and revealing those two men.
**** 4 stars
Booking until 21st July