Reviewed by Adrian Barnes
Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III received its premier on November the 28th 1991 at The National Theatre in London and subsequently toured The UK and the United States. It was made into a film in 1994 and has graced a stage somewhere in the world ever since.
Angela Short has assembled a cast of Adelaide stalwarts bulked out by a few new and up and coming young performers to stage this challenging piece of contemporary theatre.
Bennett’s script crackles along as it tells, in a fictional recreation of the documented events, the story of George III’s battle with what would be diagnosed today as acute porphyria. Although we can never be sure! But all the symptoms displayed by the King ranged from psychotic behaviour to obstructive jaundice (gall stones), bilious attacks, bipolar behaviour and chronic mania displaying as possible dementia. Now that’s a stretch for any actor. Lindsay Dunn does a very capable job of reaching into the mind of the monarch with some very memorable and convincing moments in a mammoth journey through this play. A virtuoso performance.
There are 20 people in the ensemble, including Mr Dunn, and they grapple courageously with a deft and flexible script that comes straight from the genius of Bennett. They are funny, intelligent, devious, clever, and all the things that provide drama when the king becomes apparently unfit to rule. The cast of twenty all deserve a mention but my review would take a year to write and it would become a thesis not a review! But, particularly the clever and capable work of Tom Tassone (The Prince of Wales), Joshua Coldwell (Dr Francis Willis), Peter Davis (Sir George Baker), Kate Anolak (Queen Charlotte) and Rebecca Kemp (Lady Elizabeth Pembroke) deserve a special mention for their splendid characterisations. The rest of you were excellent too. If I have a criticism, don’t let the size of the audience affect your work. I felt you were less than confident in a piece of very well presented theatre and I got a sense of struggle for the first few minutes of the show. We all loved being there; don’t short change us.
I really liked the simplicity and functionality of Bob Peet’s design, constructed by Bob Peet, Stanley Tuck, Barry Blakeborough and Andrew Peet. It was simple, effective and practical for a play that needs so many different locations and they were all clear and workable. Richard Parkhill’s lighting design was spot on and added depth and flavour to the world of George the III.
The costumes were authentic and very well realised by Angela Short, Emily Curie and Kate Anolak (not every leading lady can make her own frocks). I know the budget is always tight but petticoats, ladies, make the dress hang correctly, and gentlemen, posture was an integral part of a man’s presence in the period, shoulders back please.
Sean Smith’s sound design and Phil Short’s music added just the right touch. Handel rocks, well not quite, but he certainly added some mood and regal splendour to the scene changes and overall ambience of the piece. Nice choices!
Anne-Louise Smith must have a bed in the theatre to have created and dressed all those wigs. They are a triumph of hair engineering: one wonders how some of them don’t steal the show! Rebecca Kemp’s attention to detail with the make-up added to the sumptuous look, I didn’t see a beauty spot though. No well-dressed woman, or man of mode, of the time would have left home without one! Jan Farr’s props are, as always, spot on and the backstage crew and dressers don’t have time to sit down for a cuppa during this one.
I couldn’t attend the first night and went to the Saturday evening performance which was very sparsely populated for a Saturday night of live theatre in Adelaide. The ensemble suffered from a lack of audience response and they fought bravely to keep the text and the story alive but with little to no audience response they were left fighting an uphill battle to get some indication that the audience was having a good time. Come on Adelaide. This is good quality live theatre that relies on the support, and input, of a live audience. The theatre should have been full. Drop your Netflix subscription and get out and enjoy some live theatre. If you don’t you will be left with no live theatre to go and see unless it’s commercially produced and costs an arm and a leg.
Congratulations everyone involved! Pace and energy and have a bloody good time, it’s a ripper script very well staged and you really deserve good houses.