Set in the Georgian era of the late 18th century, The Madness of King George III depicts the Regency Crisis of 1788-89, and tells the true story of how the King battled his mental and physical health to maintain his position on the throne of England at the last minute. It was originally written by Alan Bennett in 1991 and a film adaptation was released in 1994.
Mark Gatiss (known for roles in Dr Who and Sherlock, among others) stars as the King, and truly embodies his role using every inch of his body. At times he will make you laugh, but then a few minutes later you will be left devastated for him and what he has become – the play is a true rollercoaster of emotion.
The serious subject matter is offset by some much needed moments of both comedy and affection, for example the moments shared between King George and Queen Charlotte (Debra Gillett), who is referred to in the bedroom as ‘Mrs King’. Again, it is these little touches that really draw you in and humanise the characters, as many of us have affectionate nicknames for our loved ones too.
Designed by Robert Jones, the set is suitably regal for the royal cast. The fact that it can just be rotated round to change the backdrop enables the performance to flow smoothly between scenes and leaves no time for even the most impatient audience-member to lose concentration.
Despite being set over two centuries ago, there are still a couple of interesting parallels that can be drawn with society today, namely in the fields of politics and mental health. Several political jokes are made which pretty accurately depicts our current political climate in the UK today, yet they are also perfectly appropriate for the 18th century context. Equally, the theme of mental health that runs throughout the play is timely considering the increased attention and awareness we have of this issue. Whilst most of the treatment that the King receives is seen as torturous today and both general and psychiatric medicine has considerably advanced, the diagnosis and treatment of mental health difficulties is still ever-changing today. As someone who had experienced my own mental health difficulties, aspects of Gatiss’ performance are done so well that they were highly relatable, even to the point where it was a little upsetting. Nevertheless, this did not prevent my overall enjoyment of the performance, especially as the King recovers and is able to return to his throne just in time, which makes for an enjoyable ending.
The Madness of King George III will be shown at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 24th November. On Tuesday 20th November, there will be a live broadcast of the performance, via National Theatre Live, to over 700 cinemas across the UK and beyond.