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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Madness of George III
Apollo Theatre   Winter-Spring 2012

David Haig is one of those actors who is always the best thing in any show he's in, so it is a delight to see him in a real starring role in which he can justly dominate and put everyone else in the shade. And if this revival of Alan Bennett's drama is not always up to the level of its star, it's still an adequate setting for him to shine in. 

King George III was, history tells us, subject to fits of madness that created personal and political crises. Modern medicine suspects that it was actually the metabolic disease porphyria, whose physical and mental symptoms resemble the King's, but one thing that is absolutely clear is that none of his doctors did him any good and some did him harm, and that his periodic returns to health were natural remissions of whatever he had. 

While sympathising with his tortured hero, Alan Bennett satirises the idiot doctors and gives more serious consideration to the political fallout of the King's illness and the political machinations around it. 

Those fortunate enough to see Nigel Hawthorne's original performance two decades ago (repeated in the film) vividly remember that, for all the fun and fascination of the surrounding action, it was the portrait of the poor brave man trying to survive his physical and mental horrors that carried the evening. And so it is here. 

With a couple of exceptions, the supporting cast is serviceable at best and not always that, director Christopher Luscombe too often allowing wooden and mechanical performances, and even the star occasionally seems to be just going through the motions, giving a technical and external performance rather than getting into the character. 

But at his best, which is most of the time, David Haig brings us into the agonies of the essentially nice little man (He and the Queen bid each other good night as 'Mr and Mrs King') at the centre of the story, not letting us forget the humanity that is the core of the playwright's vision. 

A lot of little, human-sized moments will linger in your memory after the surrounding political stuff fades. Here's one: restored to sanity, the King has vague memories of madly lusting after one of the Queen's attendants. Apologising, he asks her if he had ever acted on his desires, David Haig explaining with exquisite sweetness that if he had, he would like to be able to remember it. 

Beatie Edney is sympathetic as the Queen, Nicholas Rowe strong as William Pitt, and Clive Francis impressive as the least idiotic of the doctors. But the evening belongs to Alan Bennett and David Haig, and to beautifully acted moments like that one.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Madness of George III - Apollo 2012

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