The Madness of King George Review
by E. Stevens
Director: Adam Penford (National Theatre)
Cast: Mark Gatiss, Adrian Scarborough, Debra Gillett & Wilf Scolding
Plot Synopsis: King George’s health is rapidly deteriorating, and the royal court faces various problems, such as crowning a Prince Regent and attempting to cure the king with all sorts of peculiar remedies…
Mark Gatiss stars as Alan Bennett’s depiction of the eccentric Hanoverian, King George III of England. Although typically portrayed as a humorous character, this adaptation explores some quite shocking and serious moments that the king faced during his reign.
The play begins with the character of King George before his decline in health. He appears to be devoted to his wife and a fairly strong ruler, although he has an extremely poor relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales and future King George IV. The scheming Prince of Wales is determined to become Prince Regent, and therefore does not help the king through his madness when he falls ill. Trying in vain to cure the king are three royal physicians who offer some comic relief throughout the play because of their incompetence. Adrian Scarborough also provided an amazing performance as the sly Dr Willis, who is hired to cure the king, but has an ulterior motive: to have complete control over George III.
One of the best scenes came near the end of the play, when King George starts to recover and acts out Shakespeare. Up to that point in the performance, the script had not felt at all similar to The History Boys (a play also by Alan Bennett) but this scene did. The references to Shakespeare’s King Lear were very enjoyable as there are clear parallels between the lives of King Lear and King George III, and this also provided some humour after some quite intense scenes. In particular, the scenes where the king is being tied down to his chair and scalded were extremely hard to watch.
However, at times I did feel that the plot of the play got a bit too confusing. It is clearly aimed at an older audience, but even so there were a lot of different characters whose names were only mentioned once which made it very difficult to keep track of the story-line. This was especially true when characters were mentioning other characters’ actions. Despite this, the acting (particularly Mark Gatiss as the king) was excellent and although this play wasn’t my favourite, it is definitely worth watching.
The Madness of King George was available on YouTube via the National Theatre’s at Home season. New plays are added every Thursday.