The Madness of King George III

Date 5th July 2013
Society Union Theatre
Venue Solihull Manor House Gardens
Type of Production Play
Director Mark Firmstone
Musical Director John Gough


Author: Michael Hastilow

Theatre is not just the play, the words and the actors, it takes in the whole of the experience, including  the venue and the welcome.

Union Theatre chose to perform The Madness of George III outdoors in the  Solihull Manor House Gardens, a surprising jewel in Solihull’s High Street. I sat under a conker tree on a warm summer evening  and was transported to the world of George III.

The play I saw is the distillation of Alan Bennett’s  play first performed in 1991 and revived in 2012. The work gained a wider audience when it was adapted in 1994  for  the  film “The Madness of King George”.

The play has much humour in it, if all history could be presented in this form, we would all be historians! It provides a commentary on the absolute nature of kingship and the deference it commands and how this impacts on the kings advisors ability ( medical and political) to advise. The attitude of the Physicians towards Dr Willis' (Jackie Justham)  unorthodox methods of treatment is reminiscent of the establishments views on Lionel Logue in more recent times in his treatment of King George VI.

The central character is of course King George III a role drawing on all the skills of the actor as the King changes from Regal Majesty to incoherent blubbering idiot and back again. John Seeley mastered this role most convincingly ,He was ably supported by his consort Queen Charlotte (Belinda Piasecki).  Dominic Wilson, epitomised the decadent and scheming Prince of Wales  aided by the Whig leader of the opposition Charles Fox (Mark Firmstone).   The King’s housekeeper , Mrs Greville (Sian Heath) and Captain Fitzroy, the Kings Equerry (Malcolm Clark)  provided the continuity of the Kings household as we moved from Windsor to Kew . The exchanges in parliament between the Torys and the Whigs was very effectively staged and is reminiscent of PM’s Question Time in our current Parliament.

Although strictly a play, the contemporary   music of Arne, Handel and Purcel was much in evidence both as continuo and sung, with extracts from   the Coronation Anthem  “Zadoc the Priest” as  written for George II  , Messiah and other solo songs, all well presented.

The play was directed by Mark Firmstone with the Music being arranged by John Gough. Staging was simple but effective and the costumes were well suited to the action, together with the actors , a formidable team leading to an informative and excellent evenings entertainment