“The Madness of George III”; SHAW’s kindly take. Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin 

George Fredrick Hanover, King George 3rd, ruled Great Britain for the 60 years between 1760 & 1820, a 6-decade run.  That certainly outlived the Alan Bennett 20-year film depicting him before going into reruns. Poor George III & his military minions won the 7-Years War but lost the American colonies, so a 500% ERA statistically isn’t too bad.  SHAW’s director Kevin Bennett has staged a rather sympathetic interpretation of the movie by emphasizing the horrific medical practices of the time plus the political shenanigans within his court. His son & heir, the Whig/Tory battles; and the struggle for influence are all highly focused.    Photo by David Cooper

Tom McCamus & Chick Reid; aka HRH’s George III & Charlotte

The Royal George‘s house lights remain on during the performance and some of the patrons are also seated in on-stage boxes reflecting the Royal court of the period. The director himself introduces the play and iterates his rationale behind the anomalous and unconventional dramatization.  However, no liberties are taken in costumes (Christopher Gautier) and the music by Joseph Tritt is pure Handel.
George had his mental and physical problems that were not constant so the thespian demands on Tom McCamus in portraying the monarch are Herculean.  The emotional and psychological dichotomies are not evolutionary but occur rather expeditiously… so McCamus is only one of three performers who interpret a single role. The one other is his foppish 1st born Martin Happer whose Prince of Wales is more concerned with style than substance. The animosity each felt for the other is overstated, one of the few weak directorial aspects. The other principal member of the royal family is Chick Reid and her contribution as love and support reflects the original. One of the most endearing aspects of George Three was the constancy to his wife throughout both the reign and the marriage era. Reid’s diminishing respect and affection is carefully iterated and Bennett allows the audience a happy ending between the two.

The dispute between the constitutional monarchy philosophy of the Whigs as elucidated by Jim Mezon playing Fox, and Andre Sills being William Pitt and his Tory viewpoint for an absolute monarchy, epitomize our own Liberal/Conservative left & right dichotomy and to an even greater degree with the Democrat/Republican contradiction Stateside. Both actors can proffer their diverse viewpoints without resorting to extreme rhetoric. Super jobs both; & obviously detailed directorial management.
The medical procedures and the practitioners of what became known as the Industrial Revolution are vividly portrayed and they make the excesses of Abu Ghraib look tame. Bloodletting; lanceting; cupping is imitated on stage as are the ‘tranquilizing chair’ which bears a strong resembling to the infamous ‘Hot Squat’, the American method of execution before ‘progress through chemistry’. Seeing the abrasions and evulsions so intensely distinctly exhibited contribute to the empathetic representation that Bennett seeks to offer about his regal subject.

GEORGE III is at the aptly-named King George Theatre until Oct. 15th.

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