The stage version of The King's Speech premiered at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week. Nothing is lost in this brilliant stage version, and so much is gained.

The Kings Speech - at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.

 

It’s a hard act to follow, a film with a star studded cast that becomes a major box office hit and the winner of countless Academy Awards. But the play of The Kings Speech, which premiered in Guildford this week, is right up there, snapping at its heels.

 

I’ve seen the film twice and wondered what new dimension a live production might bring, Would I miss those wonderful black and white newsreels of the cheering British people hoping for a glimpse of their king? I need not have feared - nothing is lost in this wonderful production at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, and so much is gained. Perhaps most importantly we can really appreciate the carefully scripted dialogue, and that in turn, re-enforces a key message in this play - the importance of speech. We can digest the emotional words uttered by the future King, enjoy humorous lines from his speech therapist and consider the historical facts revealed by his government. Hats off to David Seidler who won BAFTA and Academy awards for writing the screenplay; a childhood stammerer himself, he was well placed to write the script with utmost compassion.

 

The set is sliced in half with a massive black frame stretched with gauze, and designer Anthony Ward cleverly creates 2 sets at once to great effect. We can glimpse people in another room and move smoothly to another scene as the stage rotates. Directed by Adrian Noble, the action moves swiftly and minimal props give aesthetic support without stealing the show. And yes there is newsreel footage, that, and music from the era transposes the audience into 30’s Britain where the threat of war is looming, and with the unfortunate death of George V, the need for an heir is pressing. 

 

The King’s oldest son Edward is pronounced King Edward VIII but when his romantic involvement with the American Wallis Simpson becomes public, general disapproval is apparent and there is growing pressure for his abdication. All eyes focus on his younger brother as the future King, a terrifying prospect for the stammering Bertie who has been teased by his more outgoing sibling all his life and desperately lacks confidence. With the help of an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, he eventually overcomes his ‘affliction’ and prepares to speak to the British people.

 

The developing relationship between Bertie and Logue is fascinating. Logue is played with great charm by Jonathan Hyde, his amusing quips interjecting with the struggling emotions of the faltering Bertie who is desperate to cure his speech impediment. Charles Edwards plays the role with sensitive conviction and adopts a stammer that is painful to witness but never slips into self pity. His flashes of temper, prompted by his inner frustration, give us glimpses of his inner strength and determination.

There is not a weak link in this competent cast; Emma Fielding is delightful as Queen Elizabeth, Charlotte Randle endearing as Logue’s wife and Ian McNeice remarkable as Churchill. Like cogs in a giant wheel, the characters are essential to the smooth operation of this fascinating story, moving it forward to the final, incredibly moving speech where Bertie finally holds his head high and addresses his people. As his loyal audience we listened, willing him to succeed and, as the final crackle of his microphone faded, there was not a dry eye in the house.

 

Tinx Newton