The emerging power of the media plays an important part in the David Seidler play ‘The King’s Speech’. When George V is dying, the moment of his death was managed by his doctors so that it would be announced by the BBC and The Times, both of which could be controlled by the establishment. It was feared that if the King didn’t die at the right time, the less reputable papers would publish the news together with details of The Prince of Wales’ affair with Wallis Simpson, the affair which would later lead to his abdication as King. The abdication fairly rocked the establishment and the fear of the collapse of the monarchy was very real. Bertie was next in line to the throne but as a chronic stammerer, he was not going to be able to make effective use of the increasingly important medium of radio broadcasting at a time of national crisis.
Queen Elizabeth engaged Lionel Logue, an aspiring Australian actor and self-styled speech therapist to help George VI overcome his crippling stammer. Logue’s unorthodox methods and relaxed Australian attitude to royal protocol is shocking to the King and Queen but they are desperate enough to persevere in their efforts to turn the King into a stirring speaker who could rally the country as war approached.
Jason Donovan is relaxed in the role of Lionel Logue who breaks all sorts of conventions in his conversations with George VI. He brings a lightness of touch to the role which is in keeping with his character’s lack of regard for royal protocol. Donovan is by some measure more convincing in this non-singing role than as Frank Butler in Annie Get your Gun, the last part he played in Edinburgh. George VI is played by Raymond Coulthard and while he looks reasonably aristocratic, his stammer is never quite convincingly bad enough to explain the torture of public speaking for the King. During the play, one of the government ministers mentioned that the King’s stammer made listeners uncomfortable but does consideration for the audience explain why Coulthard doesn’t make more of the impediment? The play has more to say about social attitudes to ‘colonials’ and political attitudes to the press that it does about the relationship between two men of widely diverse backgrounds, working to a common goal, which should surely have been the focus of the play.
The Tom Piper set deserves mention. It is brilliant with minimum clutter and maximum effect. A beautiful art deco panelled wall in which various spaces open with location indicated by a microphone or a pendant light descending from above. The play is competently handled and provides an entertaining night out but the absolute crux of the play just misses. The clue is in the title; it should focus on the King’s speech.