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The Madness of George III

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

What’s on Stage, 26th September 2003, Ian Watson

The stage for Rachel Kavanaugh’s production of this fine Alan Bennett play – a Leeds/Birmingham co-production twinned with Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge’, which will travel in the opposite direction up the motorway – is filled with a massive crimson quadrant of staircase rising seemingly towards the heavens. At the play’s opening, George III’s sumptuously panopied court makes its entrance from the top, for all the world like a panto’s walk down finale. And sure enough, when the soundtrack cheers subside, the audience is found to be applauding before a word has been spoken.

It’s a point superbly made, and Francis O’Connor’s handsome design constantly underscores this contrast Bennett draws between the luridly coloured antics of the court – egged on by Stewart Wright’s gloriously foppish and petulant Prince of Wales, desperate to shepherd in a regency of “style” – and the dour fustian of the politicians and medics who wrestle with the implications and consequences of the king’s increasingly bizarre behaviour.

It might be thought that a reign which encompassed regular wars against France and Spain, the loss of the American colonies, the introduction of national income tax for the first time anywhere in the world and the drawing up of the rules of cricket would be enough to shake the equilibrium of any monarch. As George III’s bunch of quacks, Timothy Kightley, Tony Turner and Ian Barritt are reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, constantly peering into his urine, examining his faeces and taking his pulse, only to compound with useless nostrums the agonies of a man suspected by modern medicine to have been a victim of porphyria.

Willis, the sinister priest-turned-medic (a distinctly menacing Ken Drury), prefers horse-breaking techniques and is fortunate to coincide with a remission in the king’s illness. Meanwhile, Pitt the Younger (Paul Raffield displaying political chicanery as to New Labour born) fights to maintain that the king is not mad but indisposed, aware that an incoming regency under the Prince of Wales would mean the death of his government.

Michael Pennington’s George III is a towering performance. As a king with all the trimmings, he’s imperious but benevolent, keenly aware of the failings that led him to lose the colonies yet in full control of his own domain. He struggles manfully to understand and to master his illness, which starts with a stammer, eventually developing into a gibber and total mental and physical incontinence. Yet, even as he succumbs, Pennington is simultaneously entirely credible as a man with his intellect intact despite the delinquency of his body. It is an enormously delicate portrayal and very moving indeed.

Strict historical accuracy if not one of Bennett’s major concerns, which means he can trick out this well-constructed piece with plenty of characteristic quips and wordplay. He does justice to his subject, and this strongly cast production does him full credit.

The Mail on Sunday, 28th September 2003, Patrick Marmion

Alan Bennett’s play ‘The Madness of George III’ is a much more refined affair, but ten years after it ruled the National Theatre and colonised the Oscars you wonder what all the fuss was about.

In many ways it’s an excuse to say lots of rude words under the auspices of documenting George III’s mental illness, during which he soiled his underwear and babbled filth around the clock.

Led by Michael Pennington, a cast of nearly 20 wait on him and try to get a word in edgeways. When they do, courtly etiquette is parodied by the King’s pantomime-dame sons, political wrangling is led by a po-faced Prime Minister, William Pitt, and doctors are satirised by a team of quacks, one of whom professes: “I have always found the stool more eloquent than the pulse.”

Bennett’s saucy Yorkshire wit sits cheerfully on the stage of his hometown and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is well acted throughout. The only problem is the garish staging.

The drum-shaped stairwell on which the show is performed has little sense of period and looks more like the raked podium of a conference room in a commercial hotel. However, this doesn’t dethrone Pennington’s jaunty performance as George III, which is full of sparky pathos.

The Guardian, 29th September 2003, Lyn Gardner

George III was not mad. He was almost certainly suffering from a hereditary blood disorder called porphyria that flowed through the veins of many of Europe’s royal houses. The title of Alan Bennett’s clever drama is clever itself. Who is to say where the madness really lies – with the king, or the clueless doctors and their insane treatments, or the power-mad politicians who tried to manage and manipulate his illness for their own ends? Bennett turns what could be a dull history lesson on the machinations of 18th-century party politics into lively drama that points up the differences between the king as institution and the king as man.

The quack doctors and scheming politicians come in for a walloping, but George himself emerges as a frail human being, a man who – when illness and the doctors’ barbaric treatments are not wracking his mind and body – definitely knows what’s what. As he himself puts it, when he recovers from the first bout of illness in the late 1780s: “ I have remembered how to seem.” The monarchy is all about show, the man cloaked and hidden from view by pomp, ceremony and symbolism.

The great thing about Michael Pennington’s superb central performance is that he always lets you see the man behind the king. As the doctors – and the heir, the Prince of Wales – do their worst to him, Pennington’s sweet-faced king is desperately moving. He is like an 18th-century King Lear, shuffling along on blistered legs, and turning his blind mole-like eyes from the light. This is not just a technically brilliant performance, but one from the heart. It illuminates the stage.

Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is hampered by a design of circular steps and wrap-around curtains that create two distinct playing spaces. This magnifies the brevity of Bennett’s scenes rather than creating the kind of seamless movement from one to another that was surely intended. It looks stagy, artificial and old-fashioned. But the performances are first rate, from the monarch down to the lowliest page.

Teletext, 30th September 2003

The timely and tender revival of Alan Bennett’s perceptive overview of the later life of one of our most misunderstood monarchs triumphs on several levels.

Chiefly, a masterful performance by Michael Pennington as the King.

The play focuses on George, his family, the manipulative politicians around him and the quack doctors who attempt to treat his mysterious condition.

The play pokes satirical fun at the Royal Family and the highest levels of government; perverted creatures, eager to make capital for their own ends.

The Prince of Wales (later George IV) is in it for all he can get, and for him that means the crown and power. Ditto the Prime Minister, Mr Pitt, and his cronies, seeking preferment and the right to dispose of lucrative patronage.

Bennett really goes to town with the doctors, a misguided bunch of charlatans.

Bewildered, sad George is sliding into another reality, another dimension of the mind, while trying desperately to keep a grip on his senses and perceptions of the real world.

Pennington’s account is perceptive, warm, distressing and deeply sensitive, all at one and the same time.

Francis O’Connor’s magnificently versatile set is a splendid backdrop – flights of stairs suggest that a man’s life can ascend to the greatest heights. Also that it is very easy to come skidding down the carpet and into the cellars of existence.

And Mic Pool’s sound design is (as always) a memorable and essential part of the evening.

There are some delightfully turned performances. Notable are Paul Raffield as Pitt, Alison Fiske as Queen Charlotte and David Killick as Chancellor Thurlow.

This is very much a contemporary play. It could be about the onset of senility. It’s certainly about the deviousness of politics, and it touches time after time on love and loyalty and the division of family.

The play’s also about the loss of respect that illness brings, human ambition and frailties – subjects that are as relevant today as they were at the court of poor old George III.

Rachel Kavanaugh’s rich and rewarding production produces a sublime evening of theatrical pleasures.

Michael Pennington establishes himself as a national treasure.

The Times, 30th September 2003, Jeremy Kingston

When Alan Bennett’s gripping play was premiered at the National in 1991, a flight of steps filled the stage, and the King, his courtiers, doctors and ministers climbed into view and descended towards us as if approaching from over the edge of the world. Out of their time and into our time. As the opening for an historical drama it could hardly have been bettered.

At Leeds (and transferring to Birmingham Rep on October 22) Rachel Kavanaugh’s production creates the same remarkable sense of display coupled with intimacy. Here the flight designed by Francis O’Connor spreads out from top to bottom, part baroque staircase, part lava flow, yet once again the characters step down towards us, with Michael Pennington’s King George at their head, to whirl us into the attitudes and assumptions and medical frightfulness of 1788. Few of us will arrive with detailed knowledge of 18th-century politics, but Bennett slips into his vividly written scenes all that we have to know to understand why the King’s tumble into madness threatens the government of the country. If his resentful son, the future George IV, becomes Regent, this will mean the fall of Pitt, the King’s chosen minister, and an end to financial prudence. Pennington’s portrayal traces the decline in such a way that we never lose the anguish at the heart of the madness. He begins as the sturdy Farmer George, standing firmly on plump legs, and the first signs of something untoward being just a flicker of puzzlement to his eyes and voice.

In later scenes his face has become crinkled, limbs are all over the place; he jabbers like some unstoppable Beckett crone. Then, momentarily lucid, a touch of mischief emerges and his face becomes gnomish, like an ancient Eisenhower.

Subjected to the barbarous treatment of his doctors, strapped to a chair and blistered, he becomes King Lear, and the phrases Bennett gives him to speak on nature and sanity would not disgrace Shakespeare. Pennington’s performance presents a man who is no saint but pitifully human in infirmity.

The language is one of the great treats the play gives us, which Kavanaugh’s actors speak with the confidence of true understanding. Their choice of postures too express feeling. Paul Raffield’s seemingly bloodless and unbending Pitt conveys the sudden shock of doubt when his legs splay out across two steps. Ken Drury’s Dr Willis, whose treatment coincides with the King’s recovery, licks his lips. From Alison Fiske’s Queen right down the social scale from ministers and doctors to equerries and pages, the faces look right, the brisk wit and comic responses sound right. Everything coheres to create a dazzling night at the theatre.

The Daily Telegraph, 1st October 2003, Dominic Cavendish

This may sound like a daft question, but what is Alan Bennett’s ‘The Madness of George III’ actually about? Well might you retort, of course, that the clue’s in the title. Transparently enough, Bennett’s well-researched but liberty-taking historical drama takes as its subject the dementia that afflicted the king in 1788 and thenceforth until the establishment of the Regency in 1811.

Cue an opportunity for insights to be shared about how the crisis was dealt with behind closed doors – the Byzantine political jostlings and the bizarre, nay, barbaric medical intervention. Above all, in the tragicomic spectacle of a monarch losing his marbles – and his privileges – lurk age-old paradoxes about kingship itself: what constitutes normal behaviour in a ruler whose every whim is indulged? Take away the crown and what kind of man are you left with?

Fascinations there are in abundance; it’s not hard to see why Bennett’s play proved such a hit at the National in 1991, or, again, when Nicholas Hytner brought it to the screen in 1994. And yet, watching Rachel Kavanaugh’s able, polished revival at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I struggled to lay hands on the play’s dramatic essence.

The abiding impression is of having sat through a lively history lesson (one whose appeal diminishes with repetition) rather than of having plunged into the torrent of an unusually turbulent life.

Michael Pennington’s performance as the blustering and what-whatting ‘Farmer George’ is a piece of the play: immensely competent but strapped for surprises. A notch sterner and starchier than the genial Nigel Hawthorne, he captures the man’s ebullience and roams adroitly between restless eccentricity, twitchy paranoia and muttering insanity, a far-gone look filming across his eyes. Nevertheless, it’s a measure of the writing’s limitations that when, his wits finally recovering, Pennington sits reading appositely from ‘King Lear’, it’s Shakespeare who lends the scene its necessary dignity and pathos. Where the Bards opens a window on to the soul, Bennett proffers a clever, two-dimensional trompe l’oeil. The rest of the cast do their best with a gallery of bewigged courtiers and politicians who stand around on Francis O’Connor’s cascading staircase of a set pretty much as ornamental foils to the king’s larger-than-life antics. Paul Raffield is all awed solemnity as Pitt, Alison Fiske makes a huskily beautiful queen. The trio of quack doctors – Timothy Kightley, Tony Turner, Ian Barritt, raise restorative titters with their talk of bowel movements and humours. Bennett’s homage to a Hanoverian works well enough but it should be administered sparingly lest we tire of it – 10 year intervals or so, no more.

The Independent, 2nd October 2003, Lynne Walker

What can Michael Pennington not do? In recent months, he has toured Britain as Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman, turned in a sterling performance of Dr Dorn in Peter Stein’s ‘Seagull’ at the Edinburgh Festival, directed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for Regents Park Open Air Theatre and brought out another book. Now he has assumed the throne in a large-scale production of Alan Bennett’s drama ‘The Madness of George III’. Brought about through a pooling of resources by West Yorkshire Playhouse and Birmingham Rep.

The mention of the king who lost his mind as well as the American colonies inevitably conjures up the late Nigel Hawthorne’s performance on stage and screen, but Pennington presents the troubled monarch with absolute authority. His portrayal of the king’s deterioration into, first, confusion, then babbling incoherence and, finally, delirium is frighteningly realistic. While never quite foaming at the mouth, Pennington assumes, brilliantly, all the received characteristics of someone teetering on the brink of madness, slipping between lucidity and insanity. The verbal tics – his habit of filling any empty sentence with “yes-yes!” of “what-what!” is maddening enough when he is sane – descend into torrents of verbal diarrhoea as his mind becomes unhinged.

The genial, inquisitive dimension of the king’s character is played with tremendous warmth: his affection for his long-time queen, Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Strelitz (Alison Fiske), his delight in teasing his sombre, fiercely loyal Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger (Paul Raffield), his dismissive attitude toward his greedy eldest son, George, Prince Regent (foppishly presented by Stewart Wright), and his disdain for the Whigs preparing for government. Most touching is the sometimes wry, sometimes gleeful smile glinting behind the barbed comments and ferocious attacks on those around him, his most blistering gibes reserved for the hopeless doctors charged with curing him.

An enormous flight of red stairs dominates the thrust stage, a golden sow and two piglets reminding us that ‘Farmer George’ had cultivated a common touch with his land and people. A huge red curtain and staircase landing shift us from court to Parliament, from the king’s bedroom to the chilly Kew palace, from the Regent’s frivolous partying to the meetings of machinating ministers. Francis O’Connor’s uncluttered design is matched by Rachel Kavanaugh’s telling direction, focusing on the king’s struggle to hold on to both his wits and his throne. There isn’t a weak performance among the 20-strong cast, from the humblest footman to the substantial parts of the royal retinue, particularly Andy Hockley and Paul Kemp as Fox and Sheridan, Timothy Kightley as the toadying doctor Sir George Baker, Julia St John as a gracious Lady Pembroke and Alastair Cording as a canny Dundas.

With bursts of music by Handel, the king’s favourite composer, separating the scenes, and the occasional image cleverly frozen into the next, the action moves swiftly. Kavanaugh brings out the wit and the pathos. But never, as Birmingham Rep’s website mistakenly claims, is it a hilarious comedy. Bennett’s compelling chronicle of an ailing man destined to a 10-year living death – blind, death and mad – and a historic struggle for power in government is far too disturbing for that. It has so many resonances that it could have been written this year – from the instruction to the therapist Dr Willis (a muscular performance by Ken Drury) to “rewrite the bulletin … tone it down”, to the quip that “office makes Tories of us all”.

The Stage, 2nd October 2003, Kevin Berry

Michael Pennington’s portrayal of George III is one of outstanding acting. It allows a fresh perspective on Alan Bennett’s play and that is a real achievement. Premiered in Leeds, this is a West Yorkshire Playhouse/Birmingham Repertory Theatre co-production. The crowds will surely flock, attracted by what is a popular play, and they will go away talking of Pennington.

There is a welcome measure of restraint in Pennington’s performance. He makes the monarch familiar and very much a human being. This George is like a kind, slightly eccentric grandfather just come in from the allotment. But he is no buffoon. When the malady strikes it is all the more tragic – there is both love and sympathy on the stage.

Alison Fiske’s Queen Charlotte is equally human. The Prince of Wales is played in ravishing fashion, though without pantomime, by Stewart Wright. There is all round strength in the casting and there is joy and relish in the playing. Timothy Watson’s coldly pragmatic equerry and Ken Drury’s seemingly humane country doctor are exemplary features.

Bennett’s play looks less cumbersome than is usual. A palatial staircase is frequently cut away to provide a raised acting space. The scenes have shape and depth and Jason Taylor’s thoughtful lighting adds epic tones.

A memory from the National Theatre tour of this play, some years ago, was of a modern doctor explaining the probable nature of George’s supposed madness. That has been omitted and it is a pity.

The Daily Mail, 3rd October 2003, Michael Coveney

Alan Bennett’s ‘Madness of George III’ provided Nigel Hawthorne with the stage role of his life, just as Sir Humphrey in ‘Yes, Minister’ guaranteed his berth in the television hall of fame.

Poor old ‘Farmer George’ now returns in the far less testy, more silken shape of Michael Pennington, an actor for whom bilious fevers, constipation, memory loss and delirium are a cause of discomfort, but not rage.

Playing kings is all part of a day’s work to Pennington, and though his performance is as technically adept and watchable as you’d expect, it doesn’t drive me into anything like a state of critical hyperbole, or the audience into anything like spasms of pity or disbelief.

Bennett’s play is a brilliantly tart anti-pageant, set in a year of uncertainty (1788/9) as George is forcibly separated from his wife, Queen Charlotte, and Parliament totters on the brink of a Whig takeover supported by the Prince of Wales, later the Prince Regent.

The royal urine turned to royal purple and sitting on the throne was painful in more ways than one.

As George becomes more isolated, and strait-jacketed, he discovers his own spiritual resources and enacts the reconciliation scene from ‘King Lear’ with his chancellor and equerry.

Here, Pennington really is at home, and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production, handsomely arranged on a large red circular staircase, punctuated with blasts of Handel, raises the tragic stakes.

The play has been cut, with no more comic Edmund Burke and no more contemporary author of the book that attributed George’s madness to the rare nervous disorder of porphyria (This diagnosis in now discredited.)

The production still scores many good points about politics and medicine that have modern-day resonance, and Pennington is well supported by a pleasingly large cast including Alison Fiske as Queen Charlotte (but what about the accent, dear?), Paul Raffield as Pitt the Younger and Andy Hockley as Charles James Fox.

West Yorkshire shares the show with the Birmingham Rep, whither it goes later this month in exchange for a revival of Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge’, which opened in Birmingham this week.

The Sunday Times, 5th October 2003, John Peter

And what a topical affair Alan Bennett’s play has turned out to be, what? what?, as George III himself might have said. The King becomes mentally ill and the Establishment is in a flurry of opportunism and duplicity. Who will govern? The Prince of Wales (Stewart Wright) wants to be Regent and change things: “From now on, style will be everything.” Presentation, presentation, presentation, eh? eh? The PM, Pitt (Paul Raffield), fears for his job: if Prinny gets in, he’ll sack him and bring in Fox (Andy Hockley); and already, lackies and parasites crouch for employment. The King suffers dreadfully, but few people care, least of all the obnoxious doctors, the chief of whom, the blustering Willis (Ken Drury) believes that the essence of medicine is mastery. Michael Pennington gives one of the most perceptive and moving performances of his career.

The Financial Times, 13th October 2003, Ian Shuttleworth

This production’s laughs are not guffaws but rather the rueful rumbles of an “Oh, ain’t that the truth!” kind of response. They follow three lines in particular: the observation “Office (in government) makes Tories of us all”; the prime minister’s lament “But I needed five more years…”; a functionary’s instructions to an expert to rewrite a report for parliament in language more-conducive to the government’s agenda.

Such audience responses show a heartfelt and, I think, significantly rooted state of mind towards current political issues. It is all the more surprisingly, then, that the play which elicits them is Alan Bennett’s ‘The Madness of George III’, and the prime minister in question is Pitt the younger. Rachel Kavanaugh’s West Yorkshire Playhouse revival has caught the mood of the time more keenly than anyone may have expected.

As a director, Kavanaugh has accrued a reputation in recent years for her clever 20th-centure relocations of Shakespeare comedies. The combination here is rather the opposite: Bennett’s play is only a dozen years old but demands that it be dressed in a period over two centuries ago in which it is set. This may, I think, wrong-foot Kavanaugh slightly, as she ratchets up the performance style to match the clothes. This does not handicap the production as such (although the portrayal of the Prince Regent and the Duke of York as no more and no less than a pair of empty-headed, powdered popinjays comes close on occasion), but I did keep re-playing the lines in my head with a rather more Bennettesque deadpan than they were given on stage.

In the central role, though, Michael Pennington pitched his performance with precision. When the recovering king is permitted to read some Shakespeare and his doctor innocently picks ‘King Lear’, George’s remarks about the play’s trenchancy are keener still because in previous scenes we have witnessed Pennington’s king coming so close to that other monarch’s mania.

As the authoritarian ex-priest whose repressive regimen may or may not have been responsible for the king’s cure, Ken Drury’s lowering presence recalled the late Phillip Stone in a slew of Stanley Kubrick films. A solid supporting company is especially noteworthy around the Ks: venerable Timothy Kightley, reliable David Killick, underrated Paul Kemp.

Kavanaugh’s production goes for entertainment rather than revelation, and by happy chance finds added topicality along the way.

The Sunday Express, 19th October 2003, Mark Shenton

Alan Bennett’s marvellous ‘The Madness of George III’ recalls King Lear as it tells the true tale of a monarch dispossessed by his madness and his own offspring.

First seen at the National in 1991, but best known for its subsequent film version, it is now revived at the excellent West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds (moving to Birmingham this week) with Michael Pennington investing the title character with an epic grandeur that is both tragic and comic.

Plays International, November 2003, John Sherbourne

Meanwhile in The Quarry – the WYP’s larger auditorium – Alan Bennett’s ‘The Madness of George III’ is the first part of a dual artistic/financial collaboration between the Playhouse and the Birmingham Rep Theatre. Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, the Associate Director at Birmingham, this lavishly cast if somewhat ambiguously staged production – 19 actors on Francis O’Connor’s simply presented yet at the same time sumptuously curtained and carpeted semi-circular stair case set – ‘The Madness of George III’ plays in Leeds for exactly a month before exiting for the Midlands and changing places with the other half of the venture Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge’.

In to what Bennett calls the: “now you Sir me, now you don’t” world of Court – a world, he says, in which it is: “characteristic of royalty that one minute they are happy to masquerade as ordinary persons and the next they demand to be treated as a race apart,” as King George, “the Lord’s anointed,” Michael Pennington portrays an immensely human man who behind the obligatory bluster thrives on his ‘Farmer George’ image and his engagement with the ‘real’ world that exists beyond the castle walls. But in the 1780’s with Prime Minister Pitt (Paul Raffield) forbidden even to remind the Sovereign that after the battle of Yorktown and the recently signed Treaty of Versailles “America is over,” it is as a mystery illness takes hold that Pennington’s mastery so touchingly oversees the king’s decline.

While a team of pages transport his purple piss to a gaggle of baffled toadying doctors and the heir, a dandy pantomime dame type Prince of Wales (Stewart Wright) wills his “dangling into doing” the King himself becomes a figure of pity. As with any disorder, what ails the King proves no respecter of privilege and consequently as a harrowing debility takes hold the very welfare of a nation is threatened as the patience and the allegiance of courtiers and parliamentarians alike is tested.

Identified subsequently, perhaps, as the metabolic disease porphyria of which in the 1997 edition of ‘Writing Home’ Bennett comments: “The condition presents problems that are as much metaphysical as medical,” and he ponders… “in what sense is all mental illness physical in origin?” it makes the King’s lips gibber and his glazed eyes dart around a world without reason. Indeed Act I closes with coarse leather straps restraining  ‘lunatic’ George to a chair, a broken body stripped not only of the material trappings of his birthright bout more poignantly a soul cruelly robbed of any semblance of dignity.

As from the start, when order begins to return and George feels up to making mock of his physicians the play’s subtle sub text – the deep love that he and his Queen (Alison Fiske) have for each other continues to soar above matters of State and political crises. Enhanced by her flamboyant approach to history, in this co-production it is not only director Kavanaugh’s handling of a large cast but also of Bennett’s gift to link then and now – for instance Pitt’s daisy fresh plea for “five more years,” and his obvious contempt for erroneous airs and graces such as a scene which shows their majesties sitting up in bed, addressing each other as Mr and Mrs King, and she knitting, that makes her ‘Madness of George III’ that little bit special.

Birmingham Rep

Evening Mail, 25th October 2003, Roger Clarke

Michael Pennington is magnificent as King George. In sanity we glimpse the man behind the throne but in madness Pennington exposes the monarch’s soul in a performance which is both powerful and moving.

George was probably not mad but suffered from a hereditary blood disorder called porphyria, but with the quacks of the 18th century the difference was academic as they bled, blistered, purged and tortured with more interest in their bills than the patient.

Just in case poor old George was not suffering enough, his eldest son the Prince of Wales (Stewart Wright) was plotting with the orator Charles James Fox (Andy Hockley) to take over the throne and oust Pitt the Younger (Paul Raffield) from Government.

The Alan Bennett play dates back to 1991 but it was the 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne which brought it to a mass audience. The film lost much of the humour of Bennett’s clever, thoughtful script which was a pity as amid the suffering of Pennington’s very human king there are plenty of laughs and even a couple of jokes.

From monarch to lowliest page, none of the cast could be faulted in what is a memorable evening of theatre.

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