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February 20, 2012 3:03 pm
Some slightly confusing chronology: this is not the play of the movie, but rather the play that inspired the movie, although this national tour is the play’s first full staging. As such, any comparisons should be couched not in terms of how it differs from Tom Hooper’s film, but of changes made by the film to David Seidler’s original portrait of the relationship between the stammering King George VI and his unconventional Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.
Unsurprisingly, it transpires that matters were simplified for the screen, even though the stage version is 10-15 minutes shorter. Seidler’s stage script gives greater prominence to the British polity’s awareness of the threat of fascism (and also of Soviet communism), in particular to Edward VIII’s crass admiration of Hitler. In this respect, the single speech alluded to in the title (as well as the more general sense of diction), George VI’s radio address to the British Empire on the outbreak of the second world war, is more clearly a culmination of political as well as personal and royal strands. Winston Churchill’s position is more historically accurate here, though still overly charitable: we see only an attenuated representation of his loyalty to King Edward on the matter of abdication before Churchill, so to speak, crosses the floor on the issue. And both the main female characters are much less sympathetic: Queen Elizabeth is not just sardonic and reserved but actively hostile to Logue (which perhaps explains why Seidler’s project was put on hold for more than 20 years during the Queen Mother’s lifetime), and Myrtle Logue has a much greater presence, constantly urging her husband to return to Australia and painting their remaining in Britain as inconsiderate towards her.
In the two central roles, Charles Edwards as “Bertie” once more confirms his skill at showing the human face of patrician figures, and Jonathan Hyde is a tad more sepulchral – though scarcely less wry – than Geoffrey Rush as Logue. Adrian Noble’s touring production (which I saw at its originating venue in Guildford), staged against a huge rotating picture frame, enjoys casting de luxe. Charlotte Randle as Myrtle, Joss Ackland as George V, Emma Fielding as Queen Elizabeth, Michael Feast all gas and gaiters as Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang, and Ian McNiece, who appears to have a monopoly on portrayals of Churchill similar to that secured by Robert Hardy a generation ago, all appear in subordinate and relatively undemanding roles.
Touring Bath, Brighton, Richmond and Newcastle; then Wyndham’s Theatre, London from March 22
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