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The Madness of King George III

by on 8 March 2023

A Royal Delight

The Madness of King George III

by Alan Bennett

Teddington Theatre Club at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 11th March

Review by Viola Selby

Opulence abounds as we enter the magnificent court of King George III.

Stepping into the theatre, the audience is instantly transported back in time to the Eighteenth Century with a stunning set design, including a royal balcony and marble staircase showing off the reality and splendour of the period.  This is then exemplified by the wonderful wigs, marvellous makeup and absolutely stunning over-the-top costumes, greatly highlighting the importance of appearance, all of this thanks to the creative genius of set designer Junis Olmscheid and her team and the wardrobe lead Lesley Alexander and the wardrobe team.  The use of fanfare and of Handel’s music by Jacob Taylor, adds even more, creating a royal delight for the senses. 

Just as Alan Bennett’s focused on in his writings, however, and something that has been brilliantly depicted through the direction of Sally Halsey in this production, is how this is greatly mismatched to the emotional turmoil and fragile reality of what is happening to King George III and therefore to both his parliament and his family.  As the king suffered from porphyria, a disease which was yet to be identified, he suffered mental breakdown and was therefore declared mad by his doctors.   This is indeed a very sensitive subject and one that is addressed with such care and attention by the whole cast and crew. 

Jane Marcus as King George is particularly astounding in her portrayal of this historic figure.  Through her performance we not only get to see the king go from a witty and academic ruler, ‘what-what’, to merely a thing causing problems, each of his liberties being stripped away from him, but we also get to feel his physical and mental agonies as he is tortured by his doctors and disregarded by family.  Marcus exceptionally encapsulates each tic, each itch and each uncontrollable and painful stutter, making this an intensely emotional experience for all. 

This is then beautifully met by the simply superb sternness of Daniel Wain’s portrayal of Dr Francis Willis, the final and most successful doctor who treats the King, through treating him not like a king but as a patient.  Wain manages to portray both a medical detachment but with a more humane focus, with a seemingly genuine desire to help the king regain his senses himself.  Together, Wain and Marcus make a tremendous partnership and give insight into this relationship. 

The success and intellect of Willis is amplified through another great performance partnership, this time between Jeremy Gill, Alan Hooker and Christopher Burgess as the other doctors treating the king.  Gill, Hooker and Burgess together perfectly highlight the arrogant ignorance of their characters, ironically whose medical knowledge is greatly surpassed by that of the audience.  Gill’s Sir George Baker in particular was very reminiscent of Stephen Fry as Lord Melchett in the Blackadder series, showing his comedic flair. 

One can especially see the anguish and emotion King George’s illness causes through the heart-warming and heart-rending scenes between King George and his wife Queen Charlotte, delightfully depicted by Enid Gayle, who truly shows a supportive wife torn from her beloved, as they are separated ‘for the good of the king’s health’ by George, Prince of Wales (Lara Parker) and George’s sycophantic sidekick Prince Frederick (September Taliana-Carey).  Together Parker and Taliana-Carey are a brilliant double-act convincingly conveying these two brothers as larger than life and sickly selfish. 

This scheming and political plotting is also done through parliamentary figures such as Edward Thurlow, Lord Chancellor, cunningly conveyed by John Mortley in a way that makes you constantly question where his loyalties lie, and the straight talking, socially withdrawn William Pitt, whom Julian Briscoe empathetically encapsulates in a way that brings this easily over-acted character to life in a genuine way.  Briscoe shows his amazing adaptability as he effortlessly goes from socially awkward to emotionally charged in political debates with his opposition Charles Fox (Kevin Sebastian-Pilla) and Richard Sheridan (Dominic Lloyd) whose characterisations are so politically on-point, one may think they really are scheming politicians instead of actors!

Some of the best scenes are those that take place in Parliament where, due to the sounds of Jacob Taylor, the lighting changes by John Hart and Katie Barbarez, and actors facing the audience directly, the audience become part of parliament.  The whole cast work so brilliantly together in this highly emotional yet sensitively approached performance that takes the audience on a complete rollercoaster, reminding us all that appearances can be deceptive.  They do not always show what is truly going on. 

Viola Selby, March 2023

Photography by Stephen Sitton

One Comment
  1. Lesley permalink

    Get tickets if you can!

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