Josh Entecott reviews The Madness of George III

London theatre news: Monday 15 June 2020

Online - Reviews - Streaming

Alan Bennett's witty and bright script is supported by a glowing production, directed by Adam Penford, and a remarkable performance from Mark Gatiss.
The Madness Of George III to stream with National Theatre At Home

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Our normal procedure for linking visitor reviews to our show listings has been thrown (like many things during the time of coronavirus) into something akin to a structural crisis.

So we're having to improvise and divert reviews to our news section.

Still, it's great to hear visitors' thoughts on online offerings - and here's one from Josh Entecott ...

5 star rating

The latest offering from the National Theatre's live streaming of past performances on YouTube is The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett.

Following his turn as Menenius in last week's Coriolanus, Mark Gatiss gives a whirlwind of a performance as the troubled king.

His performance is sensational for several reasons.

The first is his physicality in portraying both the mental and physical pain of the king in his downfall and subsequent recovery.

Medical experts are still divided on the cause of the King's illness in 1788, with some attributing it to the metabolic disorder porphyria whilst others suggesting a nervous breakdown as a result of the accumulated pressures of monarchy and others suggesting there was no illness at all.

The regency crisis is certainly ripe for dramatic interpretation; a flamboyant and theatrical sovereign himself, his brief absence caused the government to fall into crisis.

Mark Gatiss' performance is full of nuance and attention to detail and his physical performance embodies the entire anguish of the king, from the pain on his face at first subtle as he slowly starts to become ill, to the crooked way his foot pronates becoming more pronounced as his condition declines.

The physical gravity of the performance is comparable with Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein for its magnitude and energy.

It is matched by his exceptional interpretation of Alan Bennett's tangible script.

As the quick-wittedness of the king dissipates, "what, what?", so does his presence; resulting in a highly moving and engaging portrayal.

Both his vocal and physical portrayal of the "Mad king / we don't use that word" is superb.

Mr Gatiss is well supported by his colleagues in supporting roles.

The bombastic nature of Amanda Hadingue's Dr Pepys in shrewd collaboration from Stephanie Jacob and Louise Jameson as eccentric quacks Dr Baker and Dr Warren obsessed with humours, bile and bloodletting.

Adrian Scarborough provides an excellent turn as the patient but slightly proud Dr Willis.

The relationship between the two is central to the plot of the play and the dynamic between the two is intriguing - the rehearsal process was clearly an enjoyable one and this is reflected onstage.

"I am not one of your Lincolnshire lunatics, I am urban metropolitan and royal!" the king exclaims in a line reminiscent of Alan Bennett's marvellously astute writing, penned in a way which is totally absorbing, highly believable and completely realistic.

At the centre of this tale is the human, suffering from mental illness, who happens to be royal.

As with much of Alan Bennett's work his stories are about people and this play is no exception.

Famously the playwright takes public transport so he can overhear conversations which can then be used naturalistically in his writing.

Adrian Scarborough plays Fortnum ("why don't you open a greengrocer?") in the sublime 1994 film adaptation starring Nigel Hawthorne.

Debra Gillet, as the befuddled Queen Charlotte, is a strong match for Mr Gatiss physically and vocally - indeed some of the strongest and most intimate scenes are when the two are alone in their chamber "you are a good little pudding" the king says affectionately to her, in what both acknowledge is not a monogamous relationship.

His affectations for the gliding Lady Pembroke, played excellently by Sara Powell, not disguised.

Robert Jones' illustrious design helps bring the walls of Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace to life and takes full advantage of the depth of the Nottingham Playhouse stage, allowing for grand entrances and flourished set piece exits with full fanfares.

The cast use the space and depth provided to full effect.

The scenic paintings, produced in house, inspired by Canaletto, also translate well onto screen providing evocative backdrops of St. Pauls Cathedral.

The trumpet tongued sound design from Tom Gibbons is also very stirring, evoking Handel and Mozart.

Adam Penford must have felt a sense of coming home to direct at the Nottingham Playhouse as the theatre he first visited as a boy to watch pantomimes.

Overall, I would suggest this is essential viewing from one of the country's leading playwrights.

"Who's to say what's normal in a king?

Deferred to, agreed with, acquiesced in.

Who can flourish on such a daily diet of compliance?

To be curbed... stood up to... in a word, thwarted exercises the character, elasticates the spirit, makes it more pliant.

It's the want of such exercise that makes rulers rigid."

The Madness of George III, a Nottingham Playhouse production, is being streamed by National Theatre Live on YouTube until 18 June 2020.

And here's a taster ...

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