The Madness of George III (2010)


Alan Bennett

The Madness of George III (2010)

From the hand of national treasure Alan Bennett, author of The History Boys and Talking Heads, The Madness of George III is a brilliant exploration of duty and kingship, an epic play about the ties that bind us together as family, as a society and as a nation. Gripping drama, dangerous politics and irreverent comedy collide in a roller coaster ride where the health of the nation is at the mercy of the mental health of one man.

The Details

Show, venue, reviews, cast and production details

From the hand of national treasure Alan Bennett, author of The History Boys and Talking Heads, The Madness of George III is a brilliant exploration of duty and kingship, an epic play about the ties that bind us together as family, as a society and as a nation. Gripping drama, dangerous politics and irreverent comedy collide in a roller coaster ride where the health of the nation is at the mercy of the mental health of one man.

First performed by the National Theatre in 1991 and subsequently adapted into the hit 1994 film starring Nigel Hawthorne, this marks the first touring production of the play since the original award-winning production starring Susan Penhaligon and the late, great, Simon Ward.

Devonshire Park, Eatbourne

Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke

Horse Cross Theatre, Perth

Opera House, Buxton

Theater Royal Winchester

Palace Theatre, Southend

Northcott Theatre, Exeter

New Wolsey Ipswich

“One must not get distracted by the periwigs. The Prince of Wales has been captured by two giant meringues; the court physician has apparently got a baby hippo on his head. The madness of the wig-maker is rampant. More pressingly, Alan Bennett’s play hasn’t had a big airing since its 1991 National Theatre triumph, so I knew only Nigel Hawthorne’s brilliant portrayal of King George from Nicholas Hytner’s film. Could the play feel fresh? Can Simon Ward escape the shadow of Hawthorne?

Yes. The play is longer, subtler and – despite the very simple staging – wider than the film version. Although the King’s decline is at its core, the politics of the era fascinate the director, Alastair Whatley, who also plays the scheming heir (“the Prince of Wales is not a position, it is a predicament!”). He sees parallels with our own transitional politics, and certainly what emerges is the strained absurdity of 1788. Parliamentarians as professional and as soberly dressed as ours frustratedly operate in a world of deep-bowing courtiers dressed like playing-cards, walking backwards and forbidden to look His Majesty in the eye. The modern version of the unwritten constitution was still straining to be born.

Jamie Hinde as the wooden, decent Prime Minister Pitt is restrainedly fine, and Kate Colebrook as the page, Papandiek, brings a plaintive sweetness. But Ward shines. He has little time to establish George’s character before derangement sets in, but from his first entry he is absurd, admirable and loveable. His “what-what?”, “hey-hey?” and factual ramblings fully convey the weary courtier’s comment that “His Majesty is nothing if not inquisitive … his curiosity is benevolent, directed and infinite”. The charm is completed by his scene in bed with the Queen, played by a touching Susan Penhaligon, doing her best to look homely with the aid of yet another Mr Whippy wig.

The tormenting experimentation of the doctors, shading into purging, gagging sadism at the novelty of a captive king, has terrible force on the live stage. Ward undergoes it with pathos, rage and mischief, drawing Bennett’s anguished lines from depths of his own. “I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me.”

But the play remains intensely interesting and original, with strokes of real power – as when Handel’s Zadok the Priest is sung as the King is strapped down. Through it all, Ward never falters. It is the performance of his maturity, and I salute it.”

Libby Purves, The Times

“Alastair Whatley, who recently had a success with a touring production of Journey’s End, directs a stellar cast in this production which includes Susan Penhaligon as Queen Charlotte.”

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“Director Alistair Whatley plays the Prince of Wales, that “fat cuckoo” desperate to become king, but little esteemed by his parents. An experienced cast, many doubling roles, do justice to Bennett’s fascinating glimpse of the Regency Crisis and the political manoeuvring and dilemma as Pitt (Jamie Hinde) deliberates on the possible outcome..”

Anne Broom, This Is Devon

“In essence, this is an intelligent and timely production of Alan Bennett’s masterful play and its run at the New Wolsey is a great opportunity for the people of Ipswich to watch theatre that makes us realise that certain themes of family and politics have an immortal quality.”

Wilf Arasaratnam, BBC

“An enjoyable production of a great play, Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon depict the royal couple at the heart of this story of Georgian intrigue, eighteenth century manners and medical incompetence.”

Lynne Mortimer, East Anglian Daily Times

“Alan Bennett’s The Madness Of George III was a wonderful epic dramatic piece lasting two hours and 40 minutes on Saturday, October 30. With the mixture of clever writing and good staging no one realised how much time had passed.

I loved the way the chairs had rungs on the back so actors could climb up to show they were speaking at Westminster.”

Newark Advertiser

“I took 47 teenage pupils to watch The Madness of King George last night at Buxton. Wow! What a performance! We all loved the style, the set and, of course, the gripping, soul searching acting. Well done. I wonder if you can help me by letting me know which version of the script you were using?

My students will be analysing the acting for their GCSE and A level exams and it would be really useful if we could refer back to the script. We will probably focus in detail on the king and his relationship with the queen, and I realise that you have adapted scenes or used a version I don’t have. It is always good to see teenagers genuinely inspired and excited by a trip to the theatre. You have really lit a blue touch paper here!

If you have any publicity shots or stills from rehearsals that you could email I could get some sort of display going to get them thinking further. Thanks for you time. Hope the rest of the run goes well.”

Viv Derbyshire, Denstone College

“Simon Ward, as the ailing King, was superb. His was such a captivating performance, especially his portrayal of a man in the grip of madness that you really felt for character.

Susan Penhaligon as the Queen and rest of the cast as doctors, politicians, equerries and members of the Royal Family were very good, though it was Mr Ward who ruled the stage in this highly recommended piece of theatre.”

Maidenhead Advertiser Online

“A SUPERB performance by Simon Ward is a tour-de-force that pulls Alan Bennett’s marvellous play together.

The production uses a series of curtains for some simple but effective scene changes and much fun is had with curiously-shaped wigs. For me, it was a first-class first night of theatre.”

Lucie Richards, Basingstoke Gazette

“This is a very moving play, witty, funny and poignant. I loved the simple staging and the flourishes and swishes of red and gold silk curtains to denote scene changes.

Much of the humour in this play comes from the bumbling ineffectual King’s doctors and their distinct lack of knowledge regarding mental disorders (George’s illness was later thought to be porphyria). Bumbling, incompetent, obsequious and subservient – their ‘remedies’ of blisters, purges, behaviour modification and obsessions with the king’s smelly stools are as laughable as they are tragic.”

Carol Evans, The Public Reviews

“With the wondrous music of Handel underscoring the action, and the powerful “Zadok the Priest” gloriously framing the close of the first half, this classic production is rewarding for both the ear and the soul. A tremendous achievement.”

Simon Cole, What’s On Stage

King George III:Simon Ward

Queen Charlotte: Susan Penhaligon

Prince of Wales: Alastair Whatley

Baker/Sheridan: Courtney Spence

Duke of York/Fortnum: Garrett Moore

Warren/Fox Ian Marr

Pitt/Pepys: Jamie Hinde

Papandiek: Kate Colebrook

Willis/Dundas: Knight Mantell

Lady Pembroke: Portia Booroff

Fitzroy: Rhys King

Greville: Rob Curtis

Thurlow: Zachary Holton

Directed by: Alastair Whatley

Set Design by: Victoria Spearing

Costume Design by: Fiona Davis

Lighting Design by: Alan Valentine

Stage Management by: Zachary Holton

Production Photos

See our theatre company in action!

Rehearsal Photos

A candid look behind the scenes…