‘The King’s Speech’ at Wyndhams Theatre

Written before the screenplay for the successful film, the play of ‘The King’s Speech‘ is both more and less than the movie.

Of necessity, physically smaller in scale, the minimal set is created around a huge picture frame which rotates at the change of scenes and is sometimes opaque and sometimes transparent and there is none of the palatial opulence which gave the backdrop to the film, and which acted to accentuate the differences between Logue and the Duke.

On stage this tension has to be portrayed entirely through characterisation. Without the intensity of the ‘close up’, Charles Edwards, as Bertie has to show the pain of his stammer in bigger strokes but without over doing it.  It was a genuinely moving performance of someone trapped inside his own head and heart, unable to spit out the words to relieve the pressure which is threatening to burst him.

More room is given in the play to the political intriguing that must have swirled around the threat of Edward VIII’s abdication.  Could Winston Churchill, a mountainous Ian McNeice, have headed a ‘monarchist’ government behind the King, to rival that of Baldwin?  Did the Archbishop of Canterbury, an oily Michael Feast, really think that a churchman might hold the balance of power?

Myrtle, Logue’s long suffering wife also gets more attention; her absolute support for her husband, despite wanting different things for herself provides a dramatic echo of the relationship between the future King and Queen.

One aspect of the film that I enjoyed, and which was focussed on less in the play, was the way it dramatised the apparently silly exercises that Logue made Bertie use to practice getting the words out; it resonated with how difficult it can be to communicate when you put too much pressure on yourself to do it.  Logue didn’t cure the King of his stammer, he taught him tricks that would help him overcome it; how to breathe more deeply, how to bounce into a sentence to avoid the consonants over which he stumbled.  It’s a useful lesson to anyone trying to communicate.

But the play is a thing in its own right.  It was moving and funny in parts, and although the story was familiar because of the film, I did get something new from it.

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