It’s a chicken and egg thing. Which came first? The Play or The Film? The story was in the mind of writer, David Seidler for a long, long time. It was written as a play first and it was out there. It was when Bedlam Productions got hold of a copy of the script they decided that it would make a ‘rather good film’. Reflecting back on the film of 2010, brilliant as it was, the play’s Director, Roxana Silbert brings something new; so she is rather brilliant too.
Based on the true story of King George VI (Bertie) and his speech therapist Lionel Logue, during three or four years of unprecedented, turbulent world (and British Royal Family) events of the 1930s, we learn, early in, that radio media presentations and public speaking are causing Bertie much angst; being a known stutterer. So he begins attending speech therapy with Lionel, who injects a great sense of sensibility and informality into his life.
Donovan presents the humanistic complexity of Lionel. We are allowed through all open windows and doors of Lionel through Donovan’s portrayal. Lionel is considerate, yet can disappoint. Lionel brims with self-confidence, yet, inwardly, nurses injured pride. He’ll jump to anyone’s tune in audition but he does not suck up to a King. He is never rash, a little sharp tongued perhaps, and is often funny.
Actually all Lionel longed for was to be creatively successful, and, in a strange way, he was. He used much creativity in his unconventional approach to his work in overcoming peoples’ speech difficulties, and he knew he had all that qualified him to do the best for Bertie. This did not take the form of any formal credentials in any which way. Lionel is one of those working geniuses who felt he had to hide the fact he was untrained.
We have such an intelligent performance by Raymond Coulthard who gives so much heart and energy to Bertie. It is difficult to act out the full stretch of sinew and to let the chin fall with every vein popping spasm involved in getting those words out – it’s a marvel how he does it. We leave really appreciating how difficult it must have been for the King to be thrust to the throne, when there was no time or patience to be had for a Head of State who was media shy. The pressure on a constitutional monarch to lead his country into war must have been terrifically testing for someone with a crippled speech conveyance holding him back, and at those crucial times when important announcements and encouraging, supporting, rhetorical words needed to come through the loud and clear vocals of the messenger.
We must remember this story is alive in Living Memory; therefore, detail and fact has to stack up. I can confirm this stacks up very well against the film, but of course I cannot say how accurate this is, factually, in a ‘behind closed doors’ kind of way – the Queen, for one, would know! The personality and opinion of Winston Churchill is better documented, as he was, publicly, a more open person, so it is easy to be wiser in the knowledge that Nicholas Blane is an excellent Churchill.
Know what else is a fact? This is a great production with a wonderful cast.
Review by Debra Hall
Debra attended review’s night at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 26 February 2015. This review also appears at Remotegoat