There are some plays that are designed to pull all eyes to one actor’s performance and their performance alone. Despite the large cast, The Madness Of George III is such a play, and David Haig does not disappoint as the king descended into a violent madness.
Alan Bennett’s play will need no introduction after the hugely successful Oscar-winning film adaptation. There must be enormous pressure when stepping into those royal shoes but Haig’s performance is entirely his own, delivered with an agitated, exhausting and pained portrayal of a fragile mind splintering into a delirious fractured mess.
Flanked by three inept doctors, who fuss over him with false concern before inflicting the most barbaric of practises upon him, George transforms from an almost quaint, bumbling leader with the wittiest, most acidic of tongues to a man desperately clinging on to any sense in the world. As he says, “I am not going out of my mind; my mind is going out of me”.
Haig’s physical performance is an itching, burning, head breaking, words out of reach, shaking, violent portrayal of madness. There are no Hollywood, sugar-coated moments in Bennett’s play, Haig reaches for maximum intensity and the most frightening of emotions at every point, while Clive Francis as the revolutionary physician watches on with an ultimately life-saving calm.
For all the intensity, Bennett’s humour takes only the briefest of pauses for the most serious moments. Droll comments on the politics of government and the Royal family are frighteningly relevant today as they were in 1788 and Bennett’s witty insults that George delivers to all around him – his piggy-esque son, the Prince of Wales, is referred to a ‘plump little partridge’ and an ‘oversized turbot’ – are deliciously vicious.
Christopher Luscombe’s colourful production complements this perfectly with the Prince of Wales trussed up in purple tights and a candyfloss wig, while George’s devoted wife – referred to in the bedroom as ‘Mrs King’ – resembles a dolly toilet roll holder, all silky layers and heavy tulle.
While Luscombe’s production is perhaps suited best to those with classical tastes, there could be no theatregoers left unmoved by Bennett’s language which is as rich and tragic as any work of Shakespeare.