Autumn 1788: America has recently won the war of independence; a colossal blow to England’s national pride. The King, surrounded by bickering ministers and paranoid to the extent that he suspects his own son (‘the fat one’) of plotting his demise, is driven insane. At least, this would be the case were anyone able to diagnose accurately his indisposition. Beneath the comedy of Bennett’s play lies a study on the theme of madness, as well as a serious critique on the backwards medical practises of the age, of the backbiting prevalent in government.
Jonathan Tilley delivers a spectacular performance as George III, finding the perfect medium between humour and the portrayal of his crushing despair and inability to understand his rapid descent into insanity.
Inconsistent and somewhat dubious German accents aside, his supporting cast was strong; notably Thurlow (Dan Mclean), Dundas (Jonathan Worsley) and Pitt (Philip Aspin), whose dynamism and enthusiasm when together really brought the play to life. In contrast, the scenes with Fox (Tim Aldersley), Sheridan (Minoo Dinshaw) and Burke (Mark O’Brien) seemed somewhat wooden and flat in their execution. Mention must also go to Jack Rennison, who played very convincingly the part of Sir Boothby Scrymshir, the oleaginous sycophant seeking political gain for his socially awkward nephew, Ramsden (James Phillips), on the back of others’ misfortunes. The sparse set was generally used imaginatively and to good effect, meaning that scene changes were good in general, albeit occasionally hailed by unnecessary and overpowering renditions of choruses from Handel’s Messiah in an apparent attempt to confer stronger emotion.
There were occasional scrappy moments. Often actors blocked one another from view, or faced away from the audience while speaking. There also seemed to be technical problems to do with misjudged lighting and awkward scene changes. However we can probably put these down to first night nerves, and all in all, the production was captivating and impressive.