Tag Archives: Martin Turner

Royal Pain

THE KING’S SPEECH

The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 26th February, 2015

 

David Seidler’s play became more widely known – globally, in fact – through its Oscar-winning film adaptation. Add to that the ever-popular Jason Donovan in the cast and you have quite a seat-filler on your hands.

It’s almost a history play, in the Shakespearean sense. We see the trials and tribulations of those who rule. Functioning as a chorus, Winston Churchill (Nicholas Blane) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Martin Lang) keep the historical details and no small amount of Royal gossip coming.

But at its heart, it is the story of the friendship between two men who are, almost literally, poles apart. Raymond Coulthard, who has always looked regal, is stammering Bertie, driven to seek the assistance of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Jason Donovan). The best scenes are when these two are alone together, negotiating through their prickly relationship both a friendship and a means to save the credibility of a monarchy under pressure.

Coulthard is sublime – his is the more challenging role – and, regardless of one’s views of the monarchy as an institution – you can’t help rooting for him. Donovan inhabits his role as the bluff Australian, who doesn’t give a stuff for protocol and convention, and it’s a revelatory performance. He seems totally at home and natural, in contrast with Coulthard’s repressed and vulnerable Prince. Logue’s auditions for Shakespearean roles are terrible – but Donovan keeps their mannered delivery within the realms of believability.

Both men are supported by their wives. Claire Lams is cool-headed but caring as Bertie’s Mrs (mother to our present Queen), withering in her putdowns. The splendid Katy Stephens is Logue’s Sheila, Myrtle, adding more Aussie drawl among the cut-glass accents. Bertie’s brother David, who becomes Edward VIII, is very much the villain of the piece – not because of his anti-Semitism and his fraternisation with Nazis, but because his affair with an American divorcee threatens to undermine the Establishment. Jamie Hinde plays him as a nasty, hedonistic piece of work. All our sympathies are skewed towards Bertie, the victim of bullying and mockery by David and also their father, George V (William Hoyland).

Tom Piper’s set is all wooden panels – the floorboards radiate in a sunburst, bringing to mind a 1930s wireless – but gradually reveals its secrets and its versatility as the action unfolds. Director Roxana Silbert uses the flexibility of the set to the hilt, keeping the action continuous, with transitions flowing from one scene to the next, like a musical. But it is her handling of the ups and downs, the peaks and troughs of the central relationship of the two men that shows attention to detail and an ear for contrast and an eye for timing.

The show is a triumph for all concerned. Even if you’ve seen the film, I defy you not to be royally entertained throughout and then, right at the end, moved by the simple declaration of gratitude and friendship, and a breach of protocol on Bertie’s part: he removes his glove to shake Logue by the hand. In those closing seconds, we see how far he has come. Logue has not only taught him how to speak in public, he has turned a Prince into a man.

Raymond Coulthard and Jason Donovan (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Raymond Coulthard and Jason Donovan (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

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Star Turn

A LIFE OF GALILEO

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 19th February, 2013

Roxana Silbert’s production of this new translation by RSC resident playwright Mark Ravenhill gives us a Brecht play that adds weight to the characters’ humanity, wisely restricting the Brechtian aspects of the staging to the inter-scene transitions.

We begin with a backdrop like huge sheets of blue graph paper.  A handheld microphone lies centre stage.  Electronic noticeboards hang over the stage, scrolling the captions for each scene. The mic is snatched up by Galileo himself.  As he begins to narrate, cast members run by, stripping him down to his boxer shorts.  As he washes himself, he instructs his landlady’s young son in the basics of his argument: that the Earth is not a fixed point at the centre of the universe; it moves and turns, as all stars do…  And so, the play begins with both man and his ideas laid bare before us.

As Galileo, evil emperor Palpatine off of Star Wars himself, Ian McDiarmid gives a towering performance.  We see the mathematician’s enthusiasm and delight along with his egotism, his boastfulness, his drive, his passion and his arrogance on almost a Dawkins-like scale.  This is a portrait of a man, painted with deft strokes and more naturalism than you might expect in a Brecht play.  In fact, in this world of plastic chairs and nifty red stepladders, the cast breathes life into the characters, making them more than mouthpieces for either side of the central argument.

That argument is uncannily topical.  It is astounding to me to know that in 2013 reason still faces such strong opposition from institutionalised superstition.   You only have to think back a fortnight or so and recall the fatuous arguments of the wilfully ignorant trying to bolster their bigotry against equal marriage with highly selective quotes from scripture.  You don’t have to watch the news for long to see countries where facts are stubbornly denied and contradicted by those who cling to superstition.  Change will damage society, these people claim, when what they really mean is their positions of power will be challenged.  On a smaller scale, my own Twitter feed is littered on a daily basis with horoscopes posted by people who, in other respects, seem intelligent and insightful. Brecht’s play, first presented in 1937, is very much a chronicle for the early 21st century.

An extra topical note the producers could not have foreseen is the changeover of popes.  Galileo looks forward to a less reactionary man in a pointy hat… I wish I could share his optimism.

In an excellent cast, I especially liked Matthew Aubrey as landlady’s son Andrea.  We watch him grow from curious young lad to fervent proponent of the new thinking.  Philip Whitchurch’s Barberini, Jake Fairbrother’s Ludovico, and Martin Turner’s Cardinal Inquisitor all lend weight and credibility to the ‘other side’; and there is a wonderfully comic moment from Patrick Romer as a ‘very old cardinal’ stomping around, knackering himself out, proclaiming he is the centre of the universe.  Jodie McNee is Galileo’s pious daughter – her repeated chanting of “Hail Marys” is disturbing, as she prays her dad will recant his heretical hypotheses.  Tom Scott’s design is simple and clean, like a new geometry set on the first day of school.  John Woolf leads the band of musicians in some raucous and rousing tunes.

It’s a provocative and compelling production.  Silbert and Ravenhill make Brecht accessible and enjoyable, but the evening belongs to McDiarmid – his performance is, dare I say, a tour de ‘Force’?

The Force is strong in this one.  Ian Mc Diarmid as Galileo and Matthew Aubrey as Andrea.

The Force is strong in this one. Ian Mc Diarmid as Galileo and Matthew Aubrey as Andrea.