- Colin Fraser
NT LIVE: MADNESS OF GEORGE III
FOUR STARS King George lost the Americas, the confidence of his sons, his government and now his mind.
Mark Gatiss, Adrian Scarborough
PERIOD DRAMA #MADNESSGEORGEIII
Not to be confused with the 1994 movie version of Alan Bennett’s extraordinary play, this filmed adaptation comes ‘live’ from the Nottingham Playhouse with Mark Gatiss in the role made famous by Nigel Havers. As with any of the National Theatre Live series, the camera gives you the best seat in the house to watch one of the finest productions of this celebrated work.
It's 1786 and King George III is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as two of his fourteen children jostle for the crown and the government sizes up an opportunity from his ailment. As the royal physicians check his stool, apply leeches, observe coloured urine and engage in other contemporary ‘cures’, a forward thinking doctor (Adrian Scarborough) is called upon to reset the monarch’s mind. Fortunately for the King (and the playwright as it turns out), this bout of madness was passing which affords the play an ideal narrative arc.
The internal tensions, personal anxiety, family turmoil, political deception and loving centre (Mr and Mrs King’s relationship is delightfully sweet), give Bennett, and the play’s director Adam Penford, plenty of scope to get to the emotional heart of George’s dilemma. Peppered with Bennett’s trademark humour (he penned THE HISTORY BOYS and THE LADY IN THE VAN among others) and a minor historical moment became a landmark play. Think Lear with more laughs.
Gatiss is the churning heart of this production. As George he is truly commanding, effortlessly communicating the fear and horror of a man, nay, a monarch aware that he’s loosing his mind and terrified of where it will end. Penford keeps the sparse staging tight and effective and together with a strong ensemble support brings generosity and energy to a modern classic.