Against the Odds

The King’s Speech, Chichester Festival Theatre
Success against the odds is undoubtedly a familiar subject on stage and screen.
However, few tales of determination and bravery are more poignant than this, the story of the unexpected King, his lifelong fight for speech and a nation on the brink of tragedy. The unlikely hero of the hour? A failed actor-turned speech therapist from down under…
As the world stands on the brink of war, Edward VIII sparks controversy with his love for married socialite, Wallis Simpson. As Edward’s position becomes increasingly untenable, his brother Bertie, who has previously shied away from the public eye because of a terrible stammer, is thrust in to the spotlight as his likely successor.
With the support of his wife Elizabeth (the much-loved future Queen Mother), Bertie meets maverick speech therapist and failed actor Lionel Logue at an office in Harley Street. Together they embark on an unlikely journey to prepare Bertie to lead his country as King George VI.
Raymond Coulthard grows into the role of King George VI in parallel with his stage character, at first somewhat cautious and reserved, but gradually appearing more comfortable and confident in what is doubtless a hugely challenging role.
While Coulthard does not perfectly portray the stammer for which Bertie was best-known, his frequent falters and lengthy pauses accurately portray the sheer awkwardness and embarrassment he endured for so long.
Jason Donovan steals the show in a sublime performance as Lionel Logue. The sheer diversity of Donovan’s past experience on stage and screen is evident as he immerses himself in the role, his energy and enthusiasm radiating across the stage.
Jamie Hinde captures the stubborn and selfish nature of David (Edward III), whose disastrous affair with Wallis Simpson threatened to bring the nation to its knees.
Nicholas Blane tackles the daunting challenge of portraying Winston Churchill – a role few actors have fulfilled with great conviction – yet succeeds in portraying the determination, brutal honesty and endeavour of Britain’s greatest leader.
Martin Turner swiftly settles into his stride as Archbishop Cosmo Lang, whose tireless efforts to show the Church and the country in a positive light threaten to hamper the impending accession of the new King.
Claire Lams is perfectly aloof as Queen Elizabeth, while Katy Stephens shows the strength of spirit of Mertyl, Lionel’s loyal wife.
The simplicity of the set is at first surprising, but in fact allows for great versatility and transition – as each iconic speech to the nation is portrayed as if from speaker to listener, and ample space for the grand red carpet finale for Bertie’s first broadcast as King George VI.
A transparent curtain laden with models of war planes also proves poignant on several levels – the impending conflict first and foremost, but also Churchill’s lifelong connection with flying machines and Lionel’s patient model-making in his Harley Street office.
The staggering big screen success of the film set the bar high, but this is, nevertheless a real triumph, due in the main to several superb individual performances.
A standing ovation justly received for a truly memorable production.

A Tricky Business

The Business of Murder, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Love, betrayal and revenge. This deadly trio never fails to hold an audience in thrall, yet the enduring fascination with murder mysteries is something of an enigma in itself. There is no doubt that the mounting tension, the rollercoaster of emotions and the all-action climax offer great entertainment, but beneath the cold-blooded killer at the centre of the plot lies a psychological maze, provoking intrigue on a far deeper level. The Business of Murder is a prime example of such a murder mystery, where deceit, lies and retribution create a dangerous cocktail of emotions. As the tension bubbles beneath the surface, it is a question of when, rather than if, the crescendo will occur. When the seemingly weak and despairing Mr Stone invites talented young television playwright Dee over to his flat on the premise of discussing a potential script written by his wife, she has little to suspect or fear. However, once inside the door of his old-fashioned abode, the true reason for Dee’s invite is gradually unravelled, and when Superintendent Hallett, with whom she is entangled in an affair, also arrives on the doorstep, matters soon take a more sinister turn… Robert Gwilym delivers a masterful performance as Mr Stone, seamlessly switching from meek and mild-manned loner to vengeful victim of the law in a matter of moments. He grapples with the lengthy script throughout, drawing on his vast experience on stage and screen to maintain the attention of the audience. Paul Opacic deserves equal acclaim for his superb portrayal of Superintendent Hallett – the cocky copper the audience loves to hate, who is seemingly embroiled in a murder case with a very personal motive, yet always one step ahead of his old adversary. Once again, it is the sheer energy and endeavour he invests in this performance which creates sufficient momentum to carry the show home. Joanna Higson struggles to capture the pure emotion of Dee, particularly during her moment of ultimate peril, but does succeed in showing her characters’s confidence of youth and drive to achieve. Attention to detail, at times absent in the script, is abundant in the set – from the elaborate lampshade to the spider plant hanging in the corner, while constant references to fashion and cars help to immerse the audience in the era. Nevertheless, this is a production with huge potential which falters at crucial moments. The plot has all the key ingredients for a psychological thriller, yet the first act lacks both pace and direction. Tension slowly mounts during the second act, building towards a thrilling and unexpected conclusion, but it is pure acting talent which ultimately prevails.