The Madness of King George III
The show could be summed up in one word - astounding. But that wouldn't make for a very good review. The Madness of King George was like watching an iMax movie on stage, it filled your field of vision and dominated your senses. Using high definition detail and incredible sets, this has to be one of the best pieces of drama I've ever seen on stage, and I've seen a lot.
On entering the theatre you are greeted with a beautiful hand painted screen gauze of the finest velvet and gilded curtains. With this level of detail just for the screen, you know you are in for something good.
And from the moment the footman peeks under the curtain to tell you the King is coming, you are transported into an almost Rogers and Hammerstein opulent world that will be your home for the next couple of hours.
Two things hit you from the very beginning, the first of those is the size of the cast, this is not a small cast, with over a dozen players, many of them on stage from the very beginning, and even then some of the actors played more than role. Make no mistake this is a BIG production.
The other thing that hits you is the set, it's almost a member of the cast in its own right. A very simple, yet elegant way to provide many different locations with incredibly quick changes. Two huge rotating angular panels of Regency architecture, with fly-in fireplaces and chandeliers, or roll-in four poster beds, or simply just use the panels to divide up the space. From these simple compenents you have Palaces, Castles, Houses of Parliament or even city spaces. With choreographed movements by the cast at scene transitions it's like watching Inception or Transformers special effects live, and suddenly you are in the new location. Hats off to designer Robert Jones for that one - incredible.
With the story being set between the court of the King and Parliament, with footmen, Doctors and Politicians, aside from an early assassin there are really only 2 main female characters in the story, and yet the cast is fairly gender balanced with many women playing male roles, sometimes more than one. Refreshingly the women played the character, not the gender, so there was no dropped pitch, no swagger or bravado, just what was needed to convey the scene, and it worked really well throughout. If only gender could be that simple and balanced in real life!
This is my third time of seeing the fabulous Louise Jameson at the Nottingham Playhouse, having seen Time and the Conways and Mousetrap, each time you get something different. This time she gets to play the Doctor, or at least A Doctor, as ironically she shares a lot of scenes with another Doctor, called Baker of all names.
These two Doctors start as rivals, but soon become collaborators with Stephanie Jacob's Baker being the perfect foil for Jameson. Then they are joined by Amanda Hadingue, who manages to play a perfectly straight stool obsessed Pepys, which gave in interesting dramatic device, in that when the three of them appeared it was almost like a clown interlude at the circus. Though clowning is NOT what they were doing, it was a welcome light relief pressure valve against the otherwise dark mood of the rest of the play, and always brought a smile to the face, mixed with the odd stool induced grimace.
Surprisingly, given the size of the cast, you don't see Adrian Scarborough until almost the end of the first act, but despite the late start he hit the ground running, almost becoming the villain of the piece, and proving a more than adequate match to the King, and of course the Three Doctors.
Now I should point out at this point, that as this is a play about a madness in the 18th Century, it is quite disturbing in parts. We get to see various forms of rather barbaric treatment from the Doctors, and lots of anguish from the King accordingly. This is definitely NOT a show for the very young or faint hearted, but if you're up to it, it is well worth a watch, even if quite graphic, especially from the front few rows. The make up on the Kings legs, showing the result of the blistering being administered, is both detailed and disturbing
But you can't have a review about this play without talking about the King, and Gatiss was superb, showing the full gamut of emotions from the light hearted and amiable Mr King at the beginning, going through manic and brooding to become almost pitiful as the treatments progressed. Superlatives just won't do to describe this performance, if you've only seen him on the TV, then you haven't really seen him. This was a level of performance I've not seen before, and if he can sustain this I think we may have a new acting great waiting in the wings.
Overall and amazing, if at times harrowing, performance. One of those plays you will be proud to say in the future "Oh yes, I saw that play live on stage". Even the curtain call was remarkable as the cast reassembled on stage for the last time to rapturous applause, but I have never seen a standing ovation form so quickly as the moment Mark Gatiss reappeared from the back of the stage. All but the unsteady were up instantly, front to back, top to bottom, even the vertiginous circle dwellers were up on their feet - Madness!!!