The King’s Speech @ Chichester Festival Theatre
It’s always a difficult proposition to present a new production of a property that has become synonymous with a particular set of performers. In this new version of The King’s Speech, which plays for a week in Chichester before heading out on tour, they’ve gone in a very different direction from the extremely popular movie.
The first thing that becomes clear is that on film, with some judicious cuts, this script dazzles. On stage however, things seem extremely bitty – characters appear for a line or two and disappear again, Winston Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury play a Statler & Waldorf role, commenting on the events of the play itself.
Essentially though, this is the story of two men from opposite ends of the spectrum who become unlikely friends. As Bertie (later George VI) Raymond Coulthard is endearing enough. He underplays the stammer but makes sure we know just how much anguish it causes. Meanwhile Jason Donovan’s Lionel Logue is a little broader, he’s an affable bloke but you never get the impression he understands the complexity of the relationship between these two men. The relationship never really gets going despite the efforts of both performers, indeed the whole production feels a little stilted from the off and never really gets going.
Elsewhere Claire Lams shines as Queen Elizabeth, when she and Coulthard are together on stage you get a glimpse of just how good this production could be! Nicholas Blane makes the most of Churchill too, taking pleasure in tormenting other characters with his wit.
The small cast bustle about the gorgeous wood-panelled stage completing set changes and moving rapidly between characters, though with so few performers it’s sometimes unclear who is who. This is especially true as act two opens and Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson appear to be dancing with their household staff… and Donovan sports the most ludicrous moustache we’ve seen on stage in a very long time! It took me a few moments to realise this was supposed to help us realise he was playing a different role, but gave the impression Logue had disguised himself in order to infiltrate the palace!
This then is a script that could do with some edits and a cast who, while none of them are bad, fail to truly engage their audience. I suspect the latter issue will resolve itself as the run continues… sadly the former is likely to go unchanged.