The Mad­ness of Ge­orge III

The Observer - The New Review - - Theatre -

Not­ting­ham Play­house; un­til 24 Nov

King Ge­orge III is not mad, but he is ill. How­ever, the por­phyria from which he suf­fers has yet to be iden­ti­fied. Since its symp­toms in­clude men­tal dis­tur­bance, the king is de­clared mad by his doc­tors. Alan Ben­nett’s 1991 play (sub­se­quently a film) uses this mis­match be­tween ap­pear­ance and re­al­ity to ex­plore ques­tions about the fragility of the hu­man con­di­tion, the com­bat­ive­ness of govern­ment and the fal­li­bil­i­ties of ex­perts’ di­ver­gent opin­ions (doc­tors in par­tic­u­lar).

In 1788 it is the king, as head of state, who ap­points the prime min­is­ter. Pitt (Ni­cholas Bishop, aloof and re­strained) is his man – a steady hand and a thrifty one. If the king is mad and de­clared un­fit to rule, the Prince of Wales – his spend­thrift, dandy son (Wilf Scold­ing, petu­lant van­ity) – will be ap­pointed prince re­gent and Pitt will be out. The prince’s man is Fox (Amanda Hadingue, ex­u­ber­antly am­bi­tious), pro­mot­ing a govern­ment “prodi­gious in its ex­pen­di­ture”.

These po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal con­flicts res­onate to­day. The beat­ing heart of the drama, though, and of Adam Pen­ford’s art­ful pro­duc­tion, is the king’s own in­ter­nal con­flict. Here is a man who knows he is sane and who knows that his ac­tions make him ap­pear in­sane. Whether haugh­tily re­gal and mildly ec­cen­tric, or blub­ber­ing in his speech and wildly dis­or­dered in his move­ments,

Mark Gatiss (above) is sen­sa­tional. Through him we feel Ge­orge’s ag­o­nies of body and mind: a sup­pu­rat­ing-skinned, sen­tient crea­ture tor­tured by ill-judged “cures”; a king be­come a thing to his sub­jects. Re­stored, he re­unites ap­pear­ance and re­al­ity: the king is seen to be him­self again through a pomp­filled pub­lic cer­e­mony.

Clare Bren­nan

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