Bennett’s play follows George III’s descent into madness, and its political, emotional, and even economic ramifications.
With a cast exceeding twenty, a period setting, and hardly an easy subject matter, one could say director Rory McGregor was brave to choose this play, but the bravery paid off. It was a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable production, with the cast and direction as particularly strong points.
Alex Wilson dominated the stage as King George: commanding in the first and final scenes, and convincing in his descents into madness. In supporting roles Max Fitzroy-Stone (Pitt) and Alec Burt (Thurlow) excelled, showing the political repercussions of the King’s very personal illness. Joseph Williams was suitably menacing as Dr Willis. The many pages were impressive both individually and as an ensemble. The Prince of Wales (Josh Welch) was petty, foppish, and very well acted. A few of the cast stumbled over their words, but it was the first night of a difficult script, so that was entirely understandable and they recovered consummately.
The direction showed a good attention to detail: the cast knew how to sit down in a tail coat, a detail that has been ignored in some previous Barn productions. Vacillating as it does between wordy speeches and demanding physicality it could have easily have been jumpy and discontinuous, however, aside from some awkward tableaus, they managed to create a smooth and flowing performance. Importantly, it was properly both funny and moving.
The costumes were good and simple, engaging with the text and direction (the trio of fussy doctors wore co-coordinating brocade). The Prince of Wales was perhaps a little too skinny to justify the numerous insults flung at him regarding his weight; perhaps another cushion down his waistcoat might help. The painting on the side walls of the Barn was really rather distracting, and might have been best left out altogether. The rest of the set was good, highlighting the action, though there were struggles with the clever, but unwieldy throne. The choice of music and its use was good, except for the rather painful rendition of Zadok the Priest by the cast. While it was a very good idea, it was a shame they were so out of tune.
Overall it was an excellent production. The audience laughed and winced at all the right moments. I think it’s particularly worth mentioning that several of the cast had been in Romeo and Juliet two weeks ago, another demanding text. In such a short time, it’s commendable that The Madness of King George III is this good, so swiftly on the heels of the superb Romeo and Juliet. Well done Dramasoc for an excellent term.