Theatre review: The Madness of King George III

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THE genius of Alan Bennett is never far away in Scottish theatre; if it's not a touring version of The History Boys, it's a production of his famous monologues, Talking Heads. If ever you wanted proof, though, that a distinguished pedigree is not a guarantee of good theatre, it's amply provided by this leaden touring production of Bennett's costume drama about King George III, and the period of violent madness that shook him in 1788, almost causing the collapse of the British government.

The first problem seems to lie with the play itself, which – despite its success on stage and screen – comes across as a surprisingly laboured satire on the manners and morals of the medical profession, and on the low business of politics; there are plenty of coy contemporary jokes about balancing the books, cutting the deficit, and deploying the black arts of spin.

None of this, though, amounts to a theme strong enough to drive the drama through two-and-three-quarter hours of action; and in Alastair Whatley's ponderous production, the play seems even longer than that, despite the presence, in the leading roles, of actors as distinguished as Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon. Perhaps it's Whatley's decision to go for a highly stylised, over-wigged representation of court life that largely scuppers the human drama of the play; perhaps it's the endlessly fussy staging. Either way, the effect is stagey, in the worst sense of the word. And nothing Simon Ward can do, in a touching performance as the ailing king, can save the audience from an evening of stuffy theatrical tedium. Perth Theatre recently appointed the brilliant young Northern Irish director Rachel O'Riordan as its new artistic boss; here's to better times at Perth in future, and fewer evenings like this.