Set in 1788, the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company presented Alan Bennett’s modern classic The Madness of George III and have created a show worthy of the highest praise. From the set, to the Olivier award-winning cast, it surpassed my expectations and is an exquisite piece of theatre that the people of Nottingham should definitely see if they get the chance.
“the scenery as a whole was thoroughly convincing”
The fancy gold-embellished stage curtain immediately hinted at the standard of the play’s set but it wasn’t until the performance began that the extent of the decadence was revealed. Designer Robert Jones excelled himself with the life-sized columns and walls that rotated by hand to form different shaped rooms and exteriors. The continual movement of set and props by the attendants, such as four-post beds, chandeliers, plush seating and candles, was extremely effective as it allowed for smooth transitions between scenes without losing the royal servitude atmosphere. Although fairly minimalistic, the scenery as a whole was thoroughly convincing.
Alongside the set, the apt use of music, from Handel to religious choral songs, and the sound effects of crowds and the like, brought the show to life by emphasising the regality of the King through loud, powerful music accompanying his entrances and exits and making the moments of silence all the more affecting. Sound designer Tom Gibbons succeeded in creating the sometimes naturalistic and sometimes dramatic atmosphere and lighting director Richard Howell added to this through the subtle and occasional changes in lighting, meaning that when spotlights were suddenly employed, it was hard to look away.
“The aesthetics of the play were top-notch”
The costumes were also impressive with the bright, embellished outfits of the King’s attendants, the lavish clothing of the King and Queen and the simplicity of the sheet-like undergarments and clothes of the King as he is shown in his descent into madness. The moments on stage when characters changed their clothes and King George was dressed by his attendants drew attention to the wardrobe supervisor’s, Poppy Hall’s, attention to detail and this effort paid off in the effective creation of the image of the 1780s.
The aesthetics of the play were top-notch – it was fairly mesmerising watching the set evolve and being immersed in the royal household image, but it was the expertise of director Adam Penford and the skill of the cast that made The Madness of George III such a phenomenal play.
“It was such a realistic showcase of mental instability”
A lot of praise has to go to the King himself, Mark Gatiss. Having seen him previously on Sherlock, I knew that he was a talented actor but watching him take on such a complex role and absolutely nail it was humbling. His ability to convey the initially pedantic and comedic character of the King, show the subtle transformation of his mental state and then present the helpless, crazed and suffering George III was astounding. So much time and care had clearly been put in by Penford and Gatiss to perfect this characterisation and it was sometimes a painful experience watching Gatiss perform as it was such a realistic showcase of mental instability and torturous methods of treatment.
“Gillett embodied the role of the Queen and the desperation she must have felt”
The relationship between the King and Queen Charlotte, played by the talented Debra Gillett, was utterly convincing. There were heart-breaking scenes between them that gave me goose bumps: Gillett embodied the role of the Queen and the desperation she must have felt due to their lack of solitariness as a couple and her forced separation from the King, and the agony she managed to convey was deeply affecting.
“his interactions with the King and Queen were hilarious”
Wilf Scolding was another notable actor who harnessed his skills to create the irritating and pompous character of the Prince of Wales. I found his performance fairly pantomimic and detestable and his interactions with the King and Queen were hilarious, with the scene where they tighten his corset being a standout moment for him – Penford’s directing working nicely.
“Stephanie Jacob, Louise Jameson and Amanda Hadingue created a strong rapport both with the audience and each other”
Despite the pretty upsetting demise of King George’s mental state, the group of doctors acted as a constant source of entertainment throughout, their comedic timing and line deliveries hitting the spot every time. Stephanie Jacob, Louise Jameson and Amanda Hadingue created a strong rapport both with the audience and each other and the clash between their humour and the dark nature of George III’s treatment brought a bit of relief to the play.
The only criticism I have is that the stage-fighting in a couple of scenes was not completely convincing but this is just a very minor detail in what was otherwise a stunning show.
There were moments of pure pleasure watching these actors, their individual talents combining to create a thoroughly impressive performance. I found myself laughing throughout when I wasn’t bracing myself as the King was being treated or sitting dumbstruck seeing the royal couple torn apart. The impressive acting and visual wonders made me want to see it all over again as soon as it ended.
The Madness of George III will be broadcast live from Nottingham Playhouse to over 700 UK cinemas and many more worldwide on Tuesday 20th November at www.ntlive.com.
Featured Image courtesy of Nottingham Playhouse Official Facebook Page.