David Haig dazzles in Madness of King George III

18:20 31 January 2012

David Haig as the tormented king with  Orlando James, Beruce Khan, Ryan Saunders and Peter McGovern

David Haig as the tormented king with Orlando James, Beruce Khan, Ryan Saunders and Peter McGovern

Robert Day

It’s always a challenge portraying mental instability on the stage but David Haig gives a top notch performance as King George III.

Alan Bennett’s successful 1991 play The Madness of George III has been revived at the Apollo Theatre and if you find yourself at a loose end this winter you’d be advised to rush down to the box office to snap up a ticket.

The role of the king beset by a debilitating illness was first brought to life by the late Nigel Hawthorne in the first stage production and also in the movie.

Hawthorne won awards for his role and it looks as if Haig too could follow in his footsteps.

David Haig has made the role his own in a revelatory performance which sets him up as an actor to follow.

Many of us know Haig as the hapless Bernard in the hit comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral which made Hugh Grant’s name. This production at the Apollo shows that it is Haig’s turn for the plaudits. He is an actor at the very top of his game and delivers a stunning performance which impresses with its range as the King descends into mental illness.

In 1788 King George III was struck down by a mystery illness and suffered from a rage of distressing ailments including hypersensitivity to touch, pain, delusions and hallucinations. It was an illness which was to bother him at intervals throughout his life.

It is now thought that the king was suffering from porphyria, which turned his urine blue, but at the time the illness confounded the experts.

As his lucidity disappeared he was attended by three doctors, played by Peter Pacey, Madhav Sharma and John Webb, who were baffled but prescribed a range of treatments, including blistering and blood letting.

Despite his status the king became a pawn between rival politicians Pitt (Nicholas Rowe) and Fox (Gary Oliver) who were anxious for power and his reviled son, George (Christopher Keegan) who was anxious to get his hands on the crown, albeit as Regent.

The king’s misery is increased as he is separated from the queen, played by Beatie Edney, who shares some poignant and touching moments with him as she shows us a loving wife in a usually happy partnership.

Eventually the dour clergyman Francis Willlis is brought in as he enjoyed some success in treating people with mental illness, albeit with the use of gags and tethering the patient to a chair.

However Willis (Clive Francis), and the king eventually settle down to read King Lear, about another monarch suffering from mental illness, in one of the play’s most moving scenes.

This is a flawless production, directed by Christopher Luscombe, made dazzling by Haig’s performance which is a tour de force.

The show runs at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until Saturday March 31.

Contact the box office on 0844 4124658. Tickets cost £20 to £49.50.

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