Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Madness of George III

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Madness of George III
By Alan Bennett
The Sarah Mann Company
Georgian sophistication in music, architecture, dress and art coupled with ghastly primitive approaches to medicine and mental health plus a decadent royal family – Bennett’s celebrated play captures that strange time when the world tipped over from centuries old ways into revolution and change.
The Sarah Mann Company presents a new production and it all looks rather marvellous. The wardrobe’s delicious – mad wigs, some fabulous gowns and characterful touches, with a few ornate and elegant pieces of furniture easily moved about to set scene.
The play speaks of lot what being a king does to a man – and what being a future king in endless useless waiting does to a son.
Nathan Arris is magnificent as King George – confident, mannered, rather grumpy and at times disconcertingly looking very like Charles, his descent into pitiful raging foul mouthed rambling is superbly done. As his Mrs King, Sarah Mann portrays a genuinely loving and remarkably understanding wife. Their private moments are sweet and believable glimpses into what a normal life might have been for them.
Into this mannered, deferential and stagnant world with its political power-scrabbling undercurrents, steps Doug Devaney as Doctor Willis, shifting gears and changing the tone – it’s a huge, charismatic performance of a perhaps monstrous character. His understanding of the need for activity, connection and productivity for treating mental health was years ahead of its time, yet some audience members around us were audibly upset by the scenes of some of the more brutal treatments inflicted.
The unexpected arrival of a full choir building to Zadok the Priest plays on our recent memory of the dignified moment of anointing – but the moment this king is bundled into a horrible device and wheeled helplessly away is the most powerful moment of the whole night.
With wind in the trees, sounds from the surrounding world plus its long stage with audience on three sides, sometimes the staging means dialogue is inevitably lost, especially in moments where actors turn upstage, and that walk from entrance to speaking can be a waiting moment. BOAT presents its usual challenges, largely handled well by a powerful cast.
The play’s full of little battles for power, position and status. The politicians and courtiers have their own struggles for supremacy throughout, and the three doctors are an audience delight, their various obsessions and awful remedies played off against each other, scrapping for top position.
So many moments and clever touches – the equerries’ and footmen’s distress at having to manhandle and disrespect their King was very affecting, their love for him quite the contrast to the languid ever-waiting disdain of Paddy Cooper’s Prince Regent and Amelia Armande’s Prince Frederick draped over velvet sofas.
The Victorian age of more immense change is on the horizon, but in the end, for now at least, all is restored.
The play is on at BOAT from 12-15 July
Details and tickets
Philippa Hammond
Sussex Playwrights Reviews
Thomas Everchild