Review: The Madness of George III

David Haig takes the lead in this touring production of Alan Bennett's play, which charts the real-life deterioration of the British monarch.

The lavish historical drama is a sharp contrast to the last Bennett piece to hit Norwich - The Lady In The Van - but both showcase his skill as dramatist and satirist.

The text is sharply funny and, known as a comic actor, Haig rises to it magnificently. But his crowning moments are in the portrayal of a great mind wrecked; the 'farmer king' ripped out of his furrow by illness. His poignant embodiment of a knowingly withered man - in many states - is difficult to watch.

Clive Francis is fiercely constrained in his role as Dr Willis, the last and possibly most demented of the king's many physicians. He is cruel merely to be kind whereas as Christopher Keegan's Prince of Wales is cruel to be king, though he overplays the naivety in the first half. His inner spikiness needs to show through earlier.

Beatie Edney is a stoical and loyal Queen Charlotte, and as honest as Nicholas Rowe's seriously straight-laced William Pitt.

Director Christopher Luscombe keeps the pace up and deals confidently with a large cast, with a particularly fine dramatic crescendo leading up to the interval. In contrast Janet Bird's set feels anaemic and uninspired; this should be a grand, gorgeous, sumptuously Georgian backdrop to a belittling of a sovereign.

Haig ended tonight with a standing ovation. That's the treatment a king deserves.

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The Madness of George III continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, daily at 7.30pm until Saturday, with 2.30pm matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday.