The Madness Of King George III
Nottingham Playhouse ★★★★✩
THEN I am dead! Coffin king!’ wails Mark Gatiss’s beleaguered King George III, his shaven head bleeding, his legs blistering as his doctors and courtiers pin him down for yet more medical treatment.
Alan Bennett’s comedy about the ailing monarch’s mental afflictions, made into a film starring Nigel Hawthorne, and revived here with the League Of Gentleman star in the title role, is full of stabbing little lines like this. They underscore the fact that, even while politicians and medical professionals repeatedly pronounce on George’s condition, no one understands the depth of his predicament better than he does. Gatiss is an intriguing choice for the Hanoverian king, combining a gawky social awkwardness with a petulant imperiousness when sane, and making much of his lanky, ill-fitting physicality when mad. Yet there is a slyness and hint of wanton calculation about him that makes you question whether he is actually mad at all, or whether it is all an elaborate, existential con trick in reaction to the innate absurdity of kingship.
His torment is real enough — and moving too — but Adam Penford’s production is also sharply attuned to the shammy nature of power — MPs in the Commons are represented by masks on sticks; Wilf Scolding’s Prince of Wales is a witless goon.
Surrounding poor George, Nicholas Bishop’s mirthless Pitt has something of Spreadsheet Phil about him, while Louise Jameson leads the troop of sadistic, useless doctors: the principle butt of Bennett’s satire. Penford’s production is solidly reliable rather than revelatory, but it is a one-man play and Gatiss makes the most of it.