Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents THE KING’S SPEECH Review: Sympathetic Re-telling of History

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents North American premiere of David Seidler's THE KING'S SPEECH. Running through October 20, 2020

Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton, at right), Lionel Logue (James Frain), and Myrtle Logue (Elizabeth Ledo) in Chicago Shakespeare’s North American Premiere production of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech Liz Lauren

“I have a right to be heard. I have a voice.”

 This particular scene acts as a key moment between the two main characters of the play. King-to-Be Bertie is finally able to articulate to his speech therapist his frustration over being unable to express his arguments. The two are alone on stage, and this monarch, who is always being watched, discovers a level of trust in this private moment that he has never before experienced – one that allows complete honesty. This outburst not only acts as a turning point in the relationship, but also provides a helpful and empathetic window into this individual’s world. When have you felt unheard, and who was there to help you along your journey? Seidler’s play invites audiences to lean in, and learn alongside an individual who is forced to learn a quick lesson in an environment that is less than willing to give him that time. This is a lesson you may just find that you understand yourself.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents the North American Premiere of The King’s Speech

Written by David Seidler and directed by Michael Wilson, The King’s Speech follows the true story of Prince Albert (Harry Hadden-Paton), or Bertie – a royal who is unexpectedly forced to take the throne. Debilitated by a chronic stammer, he turns to Lionel Logue (James Frain, with spot-on comedic timing) at the urging of his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Night). Logue is a speech therapist determined to help this reluctant king to find his voice, and one that is unafraid to force Bertie to uncover his deep-hidden truths along the way. Seidler invites audiences to discover the story of the generation before the famous Queen Elizabeth of our time – the family that came before William, Harry, and even Prince Charles. Take a trip back in time to a country on the brink of World War II, and how her father learned to become the ruler they all needed – King George VI.

Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton, at right), Elizabeth (Rebecca Night), and Lionel Logue (James Frain) in Chicago Shakespeare’s North American Premiere production of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech Liz Lauren

Stunning Design

Upon walking into the theater, audiences are instantly met with the grandeur of Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet’s stage. Hanging from the ceiling are large paintings of English rulers. The play may focus on a small part of one King’s life, but the images help contextualize this moment into England’s long history – one that started well-before this play, and continues into today.

Myrtle (Elizabeth Ledo), Lionel Logue (James Frain), Elizabeth (Rebecca Night), and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) in Chicago Shakespeare’s North American Premiere production of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech Liz Lauren

Seidler’s play explores the intersection of the private and the public – a member of the royal family is rarely alone. At the top of the play, we see a spotlight on a microphone center stage – the microphone that allows the royal family to make speeches on the radio. As the scene continues and the lights spread, we see Bertie hesitantly approach the microphone, and attempt to give a speech to the public while his family sits off to the side. His family may be the only physical people on stage, but Projections Designer Hana Kim fills the massive back wall with images of a crowd – all of whom are listening to Prince Bertie, crippled by fear, and painfully stumbling through his words. We cannot see their faces, but the vast numbers of listeners and observers are certainly physicalized through the projections. Wilson’s team heightens the stakes of the piece through the design – immediately bringing to life the constant pressure on this family.

 

Impactful Storytelling

Seidler’s play is based on a true story, and Wilson’s production, in this reviewer’s opinion, skillfully personalizes that grand history with a very human portrayal of the monarch. He creates a character to whom you may very well find yourself relating and sympathizing – particularly in the presentation of the relationship between Logue and Bertie.

In one of Bertie’s later speeches, we are yet again met with this image of him taking the microphone in fear. The tension can be felt from the back of the house as he struggles to make his way through the words – with all of the pressure his family is forcing upon him. Slowly we see him turn to Logue, and through that eye contact and connection, a small sense of confidence washes over. The moment is quick, but effective, and so much is told through the silence that the two characters share. The two may be surrounded by family and palace staff, but for this instant, only the two of them matter. Hadden-Paton’s performance has the feel of a brutal sense of honesty, and the chemistry with Frain helps a heartwarming friendship take the stage – one for which you too, like this writer, might just find yourself rooting as the story unfolds. Bertie is not just a king, but also a human with very real fears and insecurities. He offers an example that demonstrates how sometimes the most powerful action we can take is to ask for help – a lesson that many often forget.

Full of heart and honesty, The King’s Speech is a moving adaptation that carries this historical tale immediately into today. Whether you are a fanatic for British history or one who simply enjoys a touching story, Seidler's play has a little something for everyone.

Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton, at right) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Night) in Chicago Shakespeare’s North American Premiere production of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech Liz Lauren
Elizabeth (Rebecca Night), Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton), and Lionel Logue (James Frain) in Chicago Shakespeare’s North American Premiere production of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech Liz Lauren
Lionel Logue (James Frain) in Chicago Shakespeare’s North American Premiere production of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech Liz Lauren

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Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

CAST

Harry Hadden-Paton... Bertie (Prince Albert, Duke of York)
James Frain... Lionel Logue
Jeff Diebold... Royal Herald / Royal Footman
Kevin Gudahl... Winston Churchill
John Judd... George V
Elizabeth Ledo... Myrtle Logue
David Lively... Stanley Baldwin
Alan Mandell... Cosmo Lang
Tim Monsion... BBC News Reader / Royal Footman
Rebecca Night... Elizabeth (Duchess of York)
Jeff Parker... David (Prince of Wales)
Tiffany Scott... Wallis Simpson
Chad Patterson... Royal Footman
Trevor Strahan... Royal Footman

CREATIVE TEAM

David Seidler... Playwright
Michael Wilson... Director
Kevin Depinet... Scenic Designer
David C. Woolard... Costume Designer
Howell Binkley... Lighting Designer
Hana Kim... Projection Designer
John Gromada... Original Music & Sound Designer
Richard Jarvie... Wig & Make-up Designer
Jane Lanier... Choreographer
Kate DeVore... Dialect Coach
Christopher Baker... Dramaturg
Hannah Wolff... Associate Director

When:

Running through October 20, 2019

Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 1:00pm and 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm

Where

Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 E. Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611

Tickets:

$50+

For full tickets and information, see the Chicago Shakespeare Theater website, or call (312)-595-5600.

Check for Half-Price Deals from Hot Tix:

Photos: Liz Lauren

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

About the Author:

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.

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