Theatre review: The King’s Speech

Charles Edwards, Jonathan Hyde and Ian McNeice serve up a royal treat

IT MAY seem hard to believe that a “jumped-up jackaroo from the outback” of Australia could have become close to the future King of England, let alone stop him stammering.

But somehow Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue and “Bertie”, King George VI, clicked, to the benefit of both men, despite the vast chasm in social standing.

Their relationship comes under the microscope in The King’s Speech, the original play that inspired the Oscar-winning movie, on stage at the historic Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End.

David Seidler, a stutterer himself, wrote The King’s Speech to show how King George VI conquered his debilitating, and at times embarrassing, stammer with the help of maverick speech therapist Logue.

This was at a time when the royals were subjected to intense media attention, ahead of the Second World War.

Seidler had always wanted to write about the monarch, whom he started researching during the 1970s. It was not until after the Queen Mother, who had asked him not to pursue the project during her lifetime, died that Seidler started writing a play.

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Prince Albert, George V’s second son, married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923.

He struggled with speaking in public, sought help, and went on to become the first sovereign to make a radio broadcast on the evening of his coronation, held on May 12 1937, after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne.

The rapport between speech therapist Logue, acted superbly by dinky-di Aussie Jonathan Hyde, and the outstanding Charles Edwards as Prince Albert, is a natural one which, while waxing and waning because of influences outside their control, continues to strengthen over the course of time.

The future king does lay down the law when it comes to their friendship, however, soundly telling off the down-to-earth Aussie for calling him Bertie in public.

Weaving through the story is the speech therapist’s cringeworthy attempts to secure a job in acting, an endeavour his strong Australian accent repeatedly puts paid to, until he accepts he is a “failed actor”.

The show, enhanced by the plush surroundings of the beautifully restored Wyndham’s Theatre, grips you from the first footstep upon the stage, as the audience meets King George V (Joss Ackland), Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice), Queen Elizabeth (Emma Fielding) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Michael Feast).

The superbly delivered dialogue is at turns witty, emotional and as sharp as a knife.

Scenes involving Churchill are as intelligent as those with David, King Edward VIII (Daniel Betts), forever fawning over the unsuitable Wallis Simpson (Lisa Baird), show him as, at times, dimwitted.

Bertie is teased mercilessly about his stammer by his brother who, flaunting his relationship with the infamous American divorcee Simpson, asks him what the point is of being King if you can’t have your way?

Before his coronation, Bertie tells Logue that he has a voice, and his speech therapist tells him in turn that he will make a good King.

Cures can be a curse, but in this show, it is Bertie’s cursing – also a classic scene in the film version – that helped him to triumph over his speech problem, and to hear a royal swear with such an upper class accent is very funny.

• The King’s Speech has opened at Wyndham’s Theatre, with ticket prices ranging from �10 to �52.50.

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