Theatre Review: The Madness of George III

Words: Jared Wilson
Wednesday 07 November 2018
reading time: min, words

One of the most talked-about plays in UK theatre right now; Mark Gatiss stars for audiences at Nottingham Playhouse and, later this month, across the world as part of National Theatre Live...

When Adam Penford took over as the artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse a year back, there would have been a twinkle in his eye about this play. He’s done plenty of interviews over the last year about how he’s the prodigal son (yes, he’s actually from here) looking to put Nottingham theatre back on the map. If he carries on like this he might just end up building a new empire.

If you’re not already aware, The Madness of George III is a play penned by Alan Bennett as a fictionalised biographical study of the latter half of George III’s reign. He was the king who became famous for losing two things; his mind and the American colonies (due to the declaration of Independence). As well as various stage adaptations, there has also been a film; 1994’s The Madness of King George - apparently they removed the Roman numerals so that American audiences didn’t assume it was a sequel.

The title role is filled by Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, Sherlock, Dr Who etc) who is almost certainly one of the most accomplished actors in the country right now. He’s excellent, engaging  and energetic throughout, and downright loveable in various states of lunacy. He is clearly comfortable working under the direction of Penford, having previously collaborated on 2016’s Boys In The Band for The Park Theatre in London. Fingers crossed this won't be the last time we see him at the Playhouse.


The cast also includes Olivier-winning Adrian Scarborough (Gavin and Stacey, The King’s Speech) as Dr Willis and Debra Gillett (Call The Midwife, Bridget Jones’ Baby) as the Queen. They too both shine and in most other productions either of them would steal the show, but this is definitely Gatiss’ night.

A play like this can seem fairly timeless, but it’s clear that interest in our monarchy hasn’t waned with the recent success of The Crown on Netflix and the tabloid frenzy of Harry and Meghan’s wedding. The set design by Robert Jones deserves a special mention. He’s created a series of simple, but slick revolving walls and furniture which looks both regal and theatrical, and enable transitions between scenes to be completed in just a few seconds each.

On Tuesday 20 November this play will be broadcast live to over 700 UK cinemas (and more worldwide) including Broadway, Savoy and Showcase via National Theatre Live. This is a first for both the Playhouse and Nottingham. It’s a pleasure to see what is usually the exclusive property of the Southbank, step into the provinces for a change.

The Madness of George III runs at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 24 November. Tickets are scarce!


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