Review: The Madness of George III

The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, October 15. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

THE genius of Alan Bennett is that his wonderful, mellifluous, dialogue sounds, somehow, as if it might have been said in the 18th century without ever appearing contrived and yet perfectly right at the present time without ever sounding anachronistic.

That’s part of his genius. He is also the master when it comes to conveying subtle horror and humour so that you feel both at once.

As you see the treatment given to the poor, mad king you think: if this is what they did to the monarch, what burning and cutting was meted out to ordinary people? But perhaps it was because they were so desperate to cure him.

Mad as he was, King George III was arguably Britain’s sanest king so far. He was so close to being an ordinary person, loving agriculture, collecting scientific instruments, being so happy with his wife that he didn’t take a mistress. He gave his wife 15 children but none to anyone else. He was beside himself with grief when his daughter died and apparently blamed the stress on bringing on a bout of his illness, now believed to be caused by a recurrent blood condition.

Bennett never underestimates his actors, giving them glorious but impossible amounts of speech. Magnificent David Haig revels in it. He made King George III a man whose hand you wanted to shake. When the audience cheered him at the end, it was because they actually wanted to see him crowned.

We celebrated King George’s triumphant recovery after Haig’s performance allowed us to feel what it is like to be trapped inside a mental illness... stuck inside an up-side-down dream that seems perfectly logical to you... without ever being self-pitying or mawkish. We felt we understood him.

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This vibrant, ensemble production, directed by Christopher Luscombe is a masterpiece of pace and wit, a perfect night at the theatre.