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Brighton Fringe 2023

The King’s Speech

Brighton Little Theatre

Genre: Biographical Drama, Drama, Fringe Theatre, Historical, Political, Theatre

Venue: Brighton Little Theatre


Low Down

Outstanding. Direction is revelatory, the musical cues from Logue’s own methods culminating on the finest single scene I’ve witnessed at BLT. Even if you’re from the Republic of Brighton and Hove, do push your way to the front for this one. A study of how a Republican humanises a man mired in the cerements of his own subjection holds lessons for us yet.

Directed by David Villiers, Stage Manager/Props Claire Prater

Set Design Construction and Painting David Villiers, Set Construction and Painting David Villiers, Cath Prenton, Terry Villiers, Claire Spencer, Paul Charlton, The Cast & Crew.

Lighting & Sound Design Beverley Grover, Sound Design, Recording & Editing Millie Edinburgh, Richard Lindfield

Lighting /Sound Operation Bradley Coffey, Properties Jessica Byrne,  Costumes Kit Ellis, Hair/Wigs Patti Griffiths, Photography Miles Davies

With special thanks to Gladrags, Harveys of Hove, Southwick Players, Chris Horlock, Felicity Clements, Claire Skinner & Catherine Farrell.

Till May 13th



You might have seen two coronations if you attended the first night. David Seidler The King’s Speech – from which the film derived – progresses to Brighton Little Theatre, directed by David Villiers and sits in state there till May 13th.

If you can, grab this. Far more exciting than TV or a drenched Mall, no rain falls on this royalty. It features two of the involving performances I’ve ever seen at BLT: which is saying up there with last year’s award-winning Airswimming.

Though beginning 1925, this play embraces the crucial years 1935-39. Seidler examines how a younger son – despite an appalling public stutter and innate reluctance – is forced to assume the throne on his brother’s abdication, is riveting. Impending war, the stated need for moral as well as political leadership, impels reluctant Bertie, future George VI (Lewis Todhunter) towards help.

Sterling wife Elizabeth, future Queen Mother (Amy Brangwyn) seeks out Australian speech therapist and failed actor Lionel Logue (Chris Parke) in Harley Street. A mild Republican, he’s about to give up his ‘next!’ round of failed auditions, return home to Perth at his wife Myrtle’s (Emmie Spencer) desperate entreaty.

Myrtle’s a firm Republican. When Elizabeth arrives, with “Mr Johnson”, slow reveals are painfully comic and touching. Logue refusing formalities of title and smoking, warms to the future king, who at one point accidentally crushes a model Curtis biplane, but, touchingly, is given the chance he never had: to fix it. His father, formidable George V (gruff sterling-silver John Hartnett, subsequently in minor roles) banned such trivia, demanding Bertie follow stamp collecting.

Brangwyn, recently so outstanding in NVT’s Beginning – her performance remains in two reviewers’ minds as at least equal to the originator – finds Elizabeth rather more brittle than others have: the arc perhaps could warm more, as it does at the end. Spencer as ever is consummate: her accurately genteel Perth accent rasped around warmth, republican disdain, disappointment, passion and graciousness.

It’s the key to Bertie’s stammer. Belittled by obnoxious elder brother David, Edward VIII (Robin Fry) who nastily imitates his stammer every time he addresses him (“B-b-b-b-Bertie”), and only complimented behind his back by his father, who thinks Bertie has “more courage than all his other brothers put together”, even Elizabeth confides one reason she married Bertie was the happy conviction he would never be king. Fry’s gal-wowing bully is quirky too, also refusing the famously-accented “I” in his abdication speech. Here he’s Camp David, a 30s lounge-lizard lothario seeking agreement – but on David’s high-stake terms.

Seidler’s play is beautifully constructed. The first reveals between the two couples counterpoint an anxious parley of three: PM Stanley Baldwin (Gerry Wicks, on fine-seasoned form, Baldwin to the living death), mighty backbencher Winston Churchill (John Tolputt, not over-emphasising Churchill, and as good as he was in his two superb NVT performances recently) and Archbishop Cosmo Lang (Peter Jukes, havering power, hesitating dislike with a silken whip).

Trust is tested after Bertie’s first storming-out till he realises Logue’s recording of him hides a sonic revelation. Another heralds rupturing confrontation. Then a shocking reveal when enemies gather. Each crisis is tested within the limits of the quartet, till the final public attempt, which subsides to the two protagonists. With trust and trauma the keynotes, Seidler expertly creates a tripartite series of crises – almost like masonic tests from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. And music as well as swearing are levers to verbal release. Passing means true kingship, the steadying of a nation – and empire – plunging to war. Failure’s unthinkable.

With George’s death, David’s determination to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Suzanne Heritage, a gleeful flit of an appearance), and – influenced by her – an equal determination to befriend Hitler to the point of treason, exposes not only the state but Bertie to a very British coup. Deliciously, Lang suggests himself as head-of-state in lieu of a “dim” monarch – Jukes is oleaginous prelate personified. It’s Churchill, painfully moving from David’s to Bertie’s camp, who’s first amongst these equals to realise Bertie’s worth, and iron strategy.

Todhunter in the title role is outstanding. His vacant terror in the superbly-choreographed opening sequence where he’s apparelled by flunkeys, heralds a performance of cracks that open armour: a harried Henry V steel-stripped to Hal and back. As bullied brother, reluctant pupil, the way Todhunter opens under Parke’s stunning Logue is mesmerising.

Todhunter ‘s loosening stutter, his changing relationships, outbursts of rage and assertion, rare tenderness, finally melting friendship, show his part is a transformation recalling Derek Jacobi, or even Charles Laughton, in I, Claudius. And his eponymous speech choreographed to music, is like nothing I’ve seen.

Parke, beautifully voiced, always commands confidence. You look to him in any production – where he often leads – for its truth. Here at BLT, absent for too long, he excels: first-equal amongst a few other equals. His soft Perth accent introduces us to a man conflicted: imprisoned in beautiful articulation as much as Bertie in his stutter. Unlike Bertie though, Lionel, as Logue prefers to be known can’t burst out of the straightjacket of perfection, to inhabit character. Fine in Australia, he strains too hard here. Lionel’s sinewy assertion, firmness (over smoking and levelling forms of address), his sheer humanity is something Parke breathes. Faced with him, you forget any performance you’ve seen of Logue, even afterwards.

With these two actors you’re in the West End, no question. Their performance surpasses professional ones I’ve seen, including a fine one at Theatre Royal Brighton in February 2012. They deserve awards.

David Villiers’ excellent horseshoe set, Persian red-rugged and white-walled with empty frames you can imagine into, enjoys just a few props: from gramophone table, microphone and model plane, kettle and cups. Little else is needed.

Beverley Grover and her lighting/sound team (on sound particularly, Millie Edinburgh, Richard Lindfield) bring a gallimaufry of British music from Handel to Max Richter, but their coup is the rousing end of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 synched to that speech. Beyond, BBC voices (and minor parts) involving Allan Cardew, Jeremy Crow and Leigh Ward diffuse RP pomp subduing an anxious time.

Whilst not all performances are on the two leads’ outstanding level, enough are exemplary in this absolute copper-bottomed production to warrant ‘outstanding’. Direction is revelatory, the musical cues from Logue’s own methods culminating on the finest single scene I’ve witnessed at BLT – and that’s from an (almost repertory) company consistently outperforming other little theatres.

Even if you’re from the Republic of Brighton and Hove, do push your way to the front for this one. A study of how a Republican humanises a man mired in the cerements of his own subjection holds lessons for us yet.