“Duty is the sole justification of our privilege.” This belief is at the very heart of the British monarchy, and thusly it is central to the story of the “The King’s Speech,” the play written by David Seidler.
At its heart, this is the story of an incredible friendship between two men who could not be more different. One is Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor, Duke of York and second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom (Nick Westrate.) The other is Lionel Logue, a failed actor from Australia (Michael Bakkensen.) Their unlikely connection helped one man find his true purpose, one find his voice, and a nation find courage for a long, dark night ahead.
… a cohesive and emotional theatrical experience…
This play is based on the true story of a tumultuous time in English history. First in line to the throne David (Jeff Parker) has fallen in love with a scandalous American divorcee (Tiffany Scott) and declares that he will marry her, bringing much worry to his father, King George V (John Judd). Matters only get worse when the King dies, and the succession is called into question by political bigwigs Stanley Baldwin (David Lively), Cosmo Lang (Noble Shropshire), and the indomitable Winston Churchill (Kevin Gudahl.) It becomes apparent that Bertie, as the family calls him, may have to step in. But there’s one problem- Bertie had had a terrible stammer since childhood. He’s even mocked by his older brother about it, calling him B-B-B-Bertie. Bertie’s loving wife Elizabeth (Maggie Lacey) decides to take matters into her own hands and seeks out Logue- a dodgy character that comes highly recommended. He is too familiar, disregards protocol, and has ridiculous, even scandalous methods, but is also exactly what Bertie needs. When Bertie must address a terrified nation on the brink of war, the task seems insurmountable. Will his unlikely friendship give him the strength he needs to give hope to a nation?
If this story seems familiar, it should; it was also at the center of the Academy Award winning film of the same name from 2010 starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham-Carter. The film received 12 nominations, the most of any that year, and won 4- Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth,) Best Director (Tom Hooper,) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
This production has big shoes to fill, but does so effortlessly. The leads, Westrate and Bakkensen, ably carry this show on their shoulders. Westrate is able to bring both vulnerability and strength to Bertie, showing the difficult path this man had to walk on his way to becoming a real leader of his nation. Bakkensen is frenetic as Logue, headstrong and full of energy. Both men excel at both the comic beats of the piece, as well as the dramatic and emotional moments. Lacey shines as Elizabeth; she brings the determination and fierce love of the real woman through. She also has some great comedic moments. Parker makes David realistically unlikeable with his spoiled and petulant portrayal of the eldest son, making Bertie much more likeable by comparison.
Elizabeth Ledo also does well as Logue’s long suffering wife, complete with an excellent Australian accent, and Gudahl casts a shadow as one of British history’s most well-known figures. He inspires many of the show’s laughs. However the person who stole the show for me was Shropshire’s hilarious portrayal as the duplicitous clergyman Cosmo Lang. His haughty air and ambitious nature bring a great deal of comic relief to the piece.
The set is versatile and interesting, lending itself to every setting of the play with minimal work to change. The background has sharp, architectural lines with a white finish- this allowed a projector to change the formation to several different locations throughout the show. There was also the use of large portraits of the royalty of Europe to help set the tone of the piece (Kevin Depinet- Scenic Designer.) The costumes were not only beautiful, but historically and culturally appropriate as well- right down to the last epilate on the military jackets (David C. Woolard- Costume Design.) Finally, there was original music that added to the emotional impact of the show; it was a perfect complement to the action of the play. Michael Wilson did an excellent job of weaving the complex events involved in this story into a cohesive and emotional theatrical experience- he is to be commended.
Running Time: The show runs for approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.
Advisory: Due to some adult language and situations, this show is recommended to audiences ages 13 and up.
“The King’s Speech” is playing now in a limited engagement at the National Theatre through Sunday, February 16th. For more information on tickets, click here.