Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The King’s Speech, Wyndham’s Theatre

Review: The King’s Speech, Wyndham’s Theatre

David Seidler’s theatre script is, of course, the original. The one spotted by Tom Hooper’s mum at the Pleasance theatre and sent spiralling into global phenomenon. However, don’t expect comparisons with the Oscar-winning, world-dominating Colin-Firth-elevating film. I’ve somehow managed to avoid even the trailer and, plonked in front of this perfectly predictable fare, I was all the more glad. Adrian Noble’s production is categorically proficient and eminently missable.

Of course, Seidler’s story is no match for cynicism, which quickly reduces it to the story of a speech impediment not quite overcome. Yet Seidler’s skill as a storyteller is to find exactly the right elements to magnify that slight core. He hikes up the tension by staking a nation – perhaps even the world – on a single speech. First, there’s his philandering partyboy of a brother and first heir, Edward; then, looming large in the background, there’s Hitler. With Churchill and Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang lurking conspiratorially, Charles Edwards’ B-B-B-Bertie seeks out Lionel Louge (Jonathan Edwards) for unconventional speech therapy.

The King’s Speech offers the smoothest ride in town, including the London Eye. Every narrative inflection is in precisely the right place and its metaphors – mostly about the monarchy and the media – are pronounced with the utmost of clarity. To finish, Noble’s elegantly minimalist production provides just the right hit of patriotism to flush your veins and make rapturous applause a reflex response.

Ultimately though the whole thing feels like Shakespeare watered down for a GCSE English class. Siedler’s script is so well-whittled that every line is designed to move the narrative forward. On one level, that’s admirable, but on another it leaves everything a little too storyboarded. The result is a spasmodic structure, happy to insert a four-line scene where a deft dash of exposition would have been so much neater. I’ve never seen a rotating stage put to so much use. It’s like watching a washing machine cycle.

That the final production comes out so flawlessly unstained is perhaps the biggest problem with The King’s Speech. While it’s good, solid populist theatre, there is nothing whatsoever to get excited about. At least a corking, lowest-common denominator musical offers some spectacle. Edwards and Hyde give perfectly decent performances, though Edwards probably gets extra traction from the overt challenge of the stutter. Nonetheless, The King’s Speech is theatre at its most resolutely acceptable.

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