Nottingham Playhouse’s The Madness of George III at the National Theatre Online
Streaming on YouTube as part of the National Theatre at Home, The Madness of King George III runs not from the South Bank, but the Nottingham Playhouse’s 2018 production starring Mark Gatiss. Considering the play’s origins at the NT’s Lyttelton Theatre when it was directed by Nicholas Hytner, this production sits comfortably in a collection alongside recent offerings of Coriolanus and Frankenstein, entertaining a range of theatre-starved audiences and fundraising along the way.
Alan Bennett’s 1991 play explores the gap between public perception and the real experience of the private life of leaders. King George III, wrecked by the loss of America and beset by schemers who hope to snatch his sovereign, suffers what is first diagnosed as gout but is clearly a nervous breakdown. Gatiss runs his gamut as King, as much in search of respectability as his character. Less a star presence than a stunted recognition, here is a man whose career is based on reviving long-forgotten TV novelties, just for the novelty. His King George generates a few laughs but becomes incredulous when his illness takes over.
Using my Blackadder knowledge to ascertain some of the historical events, Bennett’s dialogue recalls Peter Greenaway’s more biting The Draughtsman’s Contract. Scenes whip around the ecosystem of the palace. King George’s illness and wild behaviour reverberate throughout the subplots and slippery manipulation that runs through its halls. Then there’s whatever political commentary was being attempted in 2018, the Theresa May era and heady days of Brexit uncertainty. More likely, George is presented as analogous to Trump, as embarrassing as that might be for the producer and audience alike. When Ian Scarborough is introduced as Dr Willis, who promises to cure the King, the play develops into a light snobs-versus-slobs buddy comedy that ironizes the North/South divide.
A major let down of the production is the filming, which relies on close-ups and mid-shots of the characters as a shortcut to emotion. With such fast-moving comic sequences, where ten or so characters might be on stage at once, this coverage dislocates the viewing experience and kills the visual rhythm of the play. The most successful clips end up being the scene transitions – the only occasions when the entire stage is visible.
When the NT Live Angels in America uses close-ups, they’re of the extraordinary turns from Nathan Lane to Andrew Garfield. Not only does this production lack quality performances, but it doesn’t even require them. The Madness of George III needs a company of players bouncing off each other. One wonders why the camera is not left to hang back and capture the stage in its totality; this isn’t television, after all.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Nottingham Playhouse’s The Madness of George III is at the National Theatre at Home from 11th June until 18th June 2020. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.
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