I was unable to see the production of The King’s Speech at the National Theatre last week, so my friend Carolyn went. Here is what she thought of the play!
On a recent Wednesday night, my friend Ben and I made our way through some very lovely English weather (read: rain) for a night out at the National Theatre. After popping off at the conveniently located pub Elephant & Castle for a pint and a bite, we headed off to enjoy The King’s Speech.
Based on the film of the same time, the play follows the journey of King George VI (known as Bertie to his close family and friends), who assumed the British throne amidst Hitler’s rise to power and England’s steady march towards war. The weight of the task was complicated by the King’s lifelong stutter, likely a consequence of early childhood trauma. His relief came finally from an unexpected place–a saucy speech therapist named Lionel Logue.
The play was charming, if a bit unevenly paced. Michael Bakkensen, who played Logue, was the standout performance of the evening. He delivers the play’s comedic relief and makes the most of the book’s rapid fire dialogue. One of the standout laughs is an escalating series of swears as Logue proves to Bertie that his stutter falls away once he starts letting the “F” bombs fly. It’s not exactly family-friendly fare, though teens would likely enjoy the production. (In a moment of what must have been play-driven motivation, I passed by a group of students wearing nametags for an international DC immersion program and spending the intermission teaching one another how to curse in their native languages.)
When the play finally arrives at the critical moment (you guessed it, the titular speech!), the play’s effective use of both stage effects and careful allusions to the rising threat from Germany paid off. You could feel the palpable tension of the moment as the audience sat in rapt attention.
One of the most impressive things about the play was its set design. The limitations of a touring production can often translate to less than exciting sets. However, a creative use royal portraiture and projection–including period footage–made for a remarkable visual experience. Actors also made full use of the theater, moving down from the stage and out among the audience. Even the stagehands were dressed as charming butlers. Didn’t hurt that they were quite handsome as well!
This was the U.S. debut of this production, following a successful run in London’s West End. With the strong performances and creative production, I can see why it was such a hit across the pond!