When a rather serious looking man comes out from behind a solitary blue curtain into an old-school wood-panelled BBC sound studio wearing just a vest, socks and undershorts, only his stately gait suggests he's about to become King of England during one of the most volatile periods of twentieth century history. Exposed in this way at the start of Roxana Silbert's revival of David Seidler's play, it really is a case of emperor's new clothes as a bustle of servants burl about the man known to his intimates as Bertie, dressing and feeding him while he looks on with bemused surrender.
When Bertie opens his mouth he's left even more vulnerable by a terminal stammer that renders his already stilted social graces even more disempowered. By flatly refusing to doff his cap to such stuffiness, vulgarian Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue is the only person who can help the future King George VI find his voice and give him the authority to lead his country into war and beyond the constitutional crisis of his brother's abdication.
There is a wonderfully heightened quality to Silbert's production that points to the fragile pretences of both men as failed performers who find a mutual strength beyond what both believe they're capable of. Raymond Coulthard's initially uptight Bertie and Jason Donovan's Logue spark off each other furiously, with Donovan projecting witty and withering disdain towards both church and state. It is the play's final scene as King George talks to the nation that proves the most moving, however. As he grows in confidence while Logue's model aeroplanes are lowered, it is as if they are both taking flight as equals.
The Herald, March 19th 2015