Talk about an actor having big shoes to fill. Not only are you cast in a lead role as a king, you’re also playing a part for which the already adored Colin Firth won both critical adulation and an Oscar.
Not quite as terrifying, perhaps, as suddenly finding that you’re first in line to the throne of England, but daunting nonetheless. Charles Edwards more than rises to the challenge of portraying George VI in the stage version of The King’s Speech. It’s become a cliché to say an actor “owns” a role, but that’s precisely what Edwards does here. He is completely believable as the reluctant monarch whose decency and courage shine through in his battles with the speech impediment which has blighted his life.
This being a stage production, the actor’s physicality becomes so much more telling than it might be on screen. The audience can see how the stammer afflicts not just the sufferer’s voice, but his whole body. Edwards, as the edgy, uptight Prince Albert, conveys perfectly the essence of a man who is simply not comfortable in his own skin.
By contrast, Jonathan Hyde brings a magnetic sense of stillness and presence to his portrayal of speech therapist Lionel Logue. You can see how the increasingly desperate royal would come to trust this solid, dependable counsellor and friend.
There are some impressive elements to the staging of this production, including grainy black and white footage of historic events used as a backdrop, and skilful deployment of a revolving stage and a semi-opaque screen.
But it’s the quality of the acting that catches the eye.
Ian McNeice as Churchill, jowls wobbling and cigar in hand, steals every scene he appears in. Emma Fielding has true regal charm as Queen Elizabeth, and Charlotte Randle is sure to win hearts with her moving performance as the devoted but long-suffering Myrtle Logue.
Every story needs its “baddies”. Michael Feast is a delightfully oily Archbishop Cosmo Lang and Daniel Betts spookily convincing as the feckless and cruel, but stylish, Edward VIII. You could imagine he’d just stepped out of a 1930s newsreel. While Joss Ackland, as King George V, still has stage-filling presence and charisma at the age of 84.
This is a serious story about weighty matters, yet there’s a wit and lightness of touch about many of the scenes, and plenty of laughter in the auditorium. But, you could hear a pin drop, or even a tear duct welling, in the play’s closing minutes as the new monarch, haltingly at first, but with growing conviction, delivers that now legendary radio broadcast to his subjects.
A deserved standing ovation greets the curtain call.
If you would like to take advantage of a ticket offer for this play please go to our offer page by clicking here