Adrian Noble’s high quality revival of Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece has more to offer than its gender blind casting of David Suchet in the role of the indomitable Lady Bracknell. It has to be stressed that Suchet is brilliant and very much a star. Without those Poirot moustaches, he’s surprisingly convincing in drag. Did I detect a nod to his former role when Bracknell interviews a prospective groom for her daughter? Notes are taken in a book you can imagine the sleuth using for clues. But more importantly, Suchet has a playful coyness that brings more laughs to a character with no shortage of great lines. The ultimate snob, Lady Bracknell’s disgust at that infamous handbag is as we expect, but Suchet adds a repugnance to the location of Bayswater that should go down in theatre history.
Just as good as Suchet is the strong cast that Noble utilises to create a zippy production with just the right amount of irreverence towards a classic. The four young lovers do justice to the play, while adding contemporary touches. Michael Benz and Philip Cumbus play the bachelors, John and Algernon, with as many laddish touches as the text will allow. The scene of them fighting over muffins is daring – I fear for Cumbus choking one night – but pays off. Emily Barber does well to suggest how she might, as predicted, face the “tragedy” of becoming like her mother, Lady Bracknell, while Imogen Doel adds a quirky youthfulness to the role of Cecily that feels strikingly modern. This quartet, plus Suchet, live up to the freshness of Wilde’s script and are sure to please admirers of the play.
Director Adrian Noble has a hit on his hands with his new production of The King’s Speech at Wyndham’s Theatre. Buoyed by the success of the film and interest in all things royal, the play is an entertaining work with humour and a touching sentimentality. And, to warm the hearts of theatregoers, it isn’t an adaptation. Remember, please, that David Seidler’s play came first.
And what a fine, well crafted piece it is. We all know the story of George VI’s struggle with his speech impediment – and his therapist Lionel Logue is now a household name – but the clear plotting of The King’s Speech and the skilful re-imagining of the pre-war period still impresses. It isn’t inspired or adventurous stuff – the play seems too short to allow any journey of self-discovery for its characters to really take off – but Seidler knows his job and does it well.
The King’s Speech works superbly as theatre. Noble stages at speed and Anthony Ward’s revolving design, around a gigantic frame, not only echoes the play’s theme of presentation but also focuses attention on the acting. No fancy locations or fetishisation of props here – the piece is theatrical enough to rest confidently on its story.
Noble’s is a focused presentation that gets the most out of his cast. There are stirring cameos from Joss Ackland as George V and Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill. Charles Edwards gives a technically astounding performance as the stuttering royal, swearing, singing and dancing his way through the speeches that terrify him, and Jonathan Hyde is full of charm as the “familiar” mentor Logue who becomes almost part of the family. Lionel’s wife Myrtle is made into a major role with a stealing performance from Charlotte Randle. Desperate to return back to Australia but devoted to her husband’s ambition, Myrtle’s forceful stage presence highlights a fascinating triangle of affection that derives from this production’s proud theatricality.