On Tuesday 20th November, I went to my local cinema to catch a screening of the Madness of George III, written by Alan Bennett originally in 1991. The most recent adaptation which I saw came from Nottingham Playhouse and stars Mark Gatiss in the titular role, with Debra Gillett as Queen Charlotte and Adrian Scarborough as Dr Willis to name a few. Directed by Adam Penford, the play tells the story of King George III’s spiral into madness and his recovery.
First things first, we must talk about the gorgeous set design. Painted flats are moved by the actors via wires, creating a gorgeous period back drop for each scene (and there’s a lot of scenes but it doesn’t take away from the play at all.)
We are soon taken to the year of 1788. During these times, the King would appoint the Prime Minister, with Pitt (Nicholas Bishop) being his chosen man. As the King spirals into madness, there’s a chance that he could be declared unfit to rule and a result of that, the Prince of Wales (Wilf Scolding), George III’s son, will be appointed as Prince Regent. This means Pitt will be out and the Prince’s chosen man, Fox (Amanda Hadingue) will take his place.
It’s rather pleasing for me to sit and watch this unfold as a previous A Level History student. I studied Protest, Agitation and Parliamentary reform from the years 1780 – 1928 and Pitt, Fox and King George III played a crucial part in my studies. However, Bennett’s writing gives a clear picture of what is going on, so even if you’re unaware of this period of history and the political conflicts that were happening at the time, it’s made clear and is easy to understand.
The acting in this play is absolutely outstanding. Mark Gatiss gives a particularly spine-tingling performance as George III. His ability to act physically, the way his head moves, the way his feet clench up, the way he’s able to portray George III’s building madness is a huge standout. I knew that Mark was a good actor and I have been a fan of his for quite a while (Three Days in the Country, Coriolanus and Sherlock also reflect his ability as an actor) but I never knew the perfection to detail he gives with the physicality of his performance. You feel his pain when he’s being subjected to the medical practices of the time period. It’s almost unbearable to watch at times. He’s heartbreaking, funny, moving and utterly harrowing.
Debra Gillett also gives a moving performance as Queen Charlotte, wife of the king. A particular scene in which they are forced to be separated is absolutely touching. Adrian Scarborough gives a convincing performance as the Doctor who saves the day. It’s hard to find fault within the actors, as each and every single one of them gives it their all. I would love to list all of them and give a reason as to why they were exceptional but this review would be far too long.
Encore performances should be running throughout this month at cinemas so please go and watch this. I promise it’s worth it.