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Opening on 18th January 2012, The Madness of George III followed Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre for a strictly limited run until 31st March 2012. The Madness of George III tells the story of the third Hanoverian king of Great Britain, who despite his string of accomplishments is best remembered for his bouts of uncontrollable insanity. Enduring the struggle of power between politicians and his scheming son, as well as the cruel and barbaric medical treatments of the time, King George remains witty, moving, and ultimately triumphant.
Written by Alan Bennett, the award-winning playwright behind The History Boys and Enjoy, The Madness of George III was first seen at the National Theatre twenty years ago in 1991 and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. This new production, directed by Christopher Luscombe, earned rave reviews upon its premiere at the Theatre Royal Bath and subsequently played to packed houses across the country on its national tour.
David Haig gave the performance of his career as George III. An Olivier Award-winning actor, his lengthly list of theatre credits includes Our Country’s Good, Loot, and West End appearances in Mary Poppins, Art, The Country Wife, The Sea, and Yes, Prime Minister. He has also appeared in the films Four Weddings and a Funeral and Two Weeks Notice, as well as on television in The Thin Blue Line and My Boy Jack. Leading an impressive supporting cast were Clive Francis, Beatie Edney, and Christopher Keegan.
A solid production with the extraordinary David Haig in a moving performance as the ageing monarch
Known for his more recent hit, The History Boys, playwright Alan Bennett rose to international fame with this 1991 play, subsequently turned into a film starring Nigel Hawthorne. In this fine revival, David Haig gives a masterful performance as George III that will live long in the memory.
Still reeling from Britain’s loss of the American colonies, George comes down with an unexplainable bout of mental illness. He is subjected to barbaric treatments at the hands of a series of doctors, none of whom are able to diagnose or treat his condition. His scheming son, the Price of Wales (Christopher Keegan) and the rival Whig party view this as a chance to claim power, and use the King’s malady to their own considerable advantage.
Haig mesmerises as the afflicted monarch, giving an empathetic and heart-breakingly realistic portrayal of a man losing his sanity. He seamlessly degenerates from an affable, wise-cracking king to a manic and lecherous lunatic, and painstakingly shows his slow recovery. His relationship with the Queen (Beatie Edney), whom he affectionately refers to as “Mrs. King” is deeply felt, and their reunion after her banishment is beautifully done by these two charismatic actors.
Director Christopher Luscombe keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and Janet Bird’s simple set design gives space for her lavish period costumes. The ensemble is strong overall, but some hammy performances detract from the overall production (Keegan and Thomas Wheatley as the Lord Chancellor are the main offenders). Clive Francis manages to bring a sense of propriety to proceedings as the king’s most successful doctor, a former clergyman from Lincolnshire who has a more modern approach to psychiatry that is nonetheless brutal. He provides the production’s sharpest punchline, when after being convinced by George to recite from Shakespeare’s own play about a mad monarch with ungrateful children, King Lear, claiming he “had no idea what it was about.”
Bennett is most successful when he avoids winking at the audience (a member of the court named Fortnum leaves to start a grocery in Piccadilly) and hones in on the greater context of the king’s descent into madness. Much of the posturing between the Whig and Tory parties is reminiscent of today’s political climate, and the primary concern as a result of the king’s health is that it could cause economic collapse. Bennett and Haig are both at their sharpest with king’s lament of the loss of America, rightly predicting that India, Africa, and even Ireland would surely follow. Haig’s George is not only plagued by madness, but by the realisation that the age of British imperialism would ultimately prove impermanent.
Share Your Opinion of The Madness of George III…
Did you see The Madness of George III at the Theatre Royal Bath, or on its UK Tour? Do you think it is Alan Bennett’s best play or would you have preferred to have seen another one of his works come to the Apollo Theatre? Add your comments below!