Alan Bennett’s play examining the life of George III is vividly brought to the stage in this 2018 production at the Nottingham Playhouse.
Concentrating on the period in history where George III’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, leading to a battle for power and control within government and the ambitious Prince of Wales determined to become regent, Alan Bennett’s 1991 play is a powerful watch.
This pacy production seen at the Nottingham Playhouse, is directed with great power but also sensitivity by Adam Penford, delves deep into the heart of just how closely intertwined the crown and politics was at that time while capturing just how misunderstood mental health was. It is filled with moments in which many of the characters are jostling for power – including the physicians each claiming that their cure will work the best without really considering their patient. This is a play that has plenty of bite to be found in every scene but also never loses a sense of humanity, with little touches such as when the servants express their devotion to the King that adds compassion to what is unfolding.
Every element of this production really works well together, with the sharp and at times gently humorous script as well as the grandeur of the music and the awful cure attempts that the king was put through enhancing the heartbreaking situation it was. It all makes for fascinating, if difficult to watch at times, viewing. Meanwhile, visually it has plenty to offer thanks to the sumptuous set and costume designs by Robert Jones that capture the era perfectly.
Mark Gatiss as King George III is marvellous in the way in which he transforms this charismatic and in control man into a broken shell who is badly treated by many. It is a performance that is as heartbreaking as it is mesmerising – with the contrast between his loving relationship with the Queen Charlotte and the battle of wits with Dr Willis being particularly fascinating to watch. Elsewhere, Adrian Scarborough as Dr Willis delivers a interesting and detailed performance – highlighting the brutal methods needed to cure but does it out of compassion as opposed to the other physicians who simply do it for their careers. It is a commanding performance that is impressive to watch. Nicholas Bishop is also wonderfully dry and straight faced as the sombre William Pitt who immensely dislikes using the word ‘mad’ to describe the king – although as the play goes on it is clear this more out of fear and worry for the government than compassion.
The whole production unfolds wonderfully, offering real insight into this period of history. It has been elegantly put together and makes for compelling viewing from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon
The Madness of George III is available to watch through the National Theatre’s Youtube channel until the 18th June.