Overcoming a speech impediment to prove worthiness

The King’s Speech

Myrtle (Elizabeth Ledo) and Lionel Logue (James Frain), Left, and Elizabeth (Rebecca Night) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) in Chicago Shakespeare’s The King’s Speech. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)
Myrtle (Elizabeth Ledo) and Lionel Logue (James Frain), Left, and Elizabeth (Rebecca Night) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) in Chicago Shakespeare’s The King’s Speech. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

4 stars

Although “The King’s Speech” playwright David Seidler’s script about how King George VI overcame his stutter while ascending to the British throne was a 2010 Oscar-winning movie, it started life as a play after Seidler researched the process in the 1970’s.

Seidler had learned that the man who would be king, known as Bertie to family and close friends, worked with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, a man who had come with his wife to London with hopes of finding an acting job.

The information revealed in the script came from Lionel’s son, Valentine Logue. But Queen Elizabeth, the King’sGeorge’s wife, didn’t want the play produced until after she died.

Work on the script began again in 2005, a few years after the Queen Mother died in 2002. However, it became the highly acclaimed Academy-Award winner Best Picture of the Year and also Best Director, Best Actor and won Seidler the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Two years later the playwright turned his movie script back into a play that  premiered in Surry, England in 2012, toured the UK and had it’s London premier in the West End.

Now, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is presenting its North American premiere. It is doing so with a sterling cast and spot-on direction that should garner Jeff nominations for its stars, Harry Hadden-Paton and James Frain.

Hadden-Paton, Broadway revival’s “My Fair Lady” Tony nominee for Henry Higgins, wear’s the “Bertie” mantle as a second skin.  “Downton Abbey” fans will recognize  him as Herbert Pelhanm, 7th Marquess of Hexham, also known as “Bertie.”

Frain who skillfully portrays Lionel Logue as an Australian more concerned with helping a stutterer than worrying about England’s Royal protocols, had feature roles in HBO’s “True Blood” and received the Drama Desk Award for his performance in “The Homecoming.

The rest of the cast is also excellent, but special mentions have to go to veteran Chicago actors; Elizabeth Ledo as Lionel’s wife, Myrtle, who wants to return to Perth (About Face, Court, Goodman, Northlight and Chicago Shakespeare) and Kevin Gudahl as Winston Churchill. (Chicago Shakespeare Court, Goodman and Writers Theatre plus the Stratford Festival.

Pulling it seamlessly together is director Michael Wilso who helmed several ony Award nominated plays including “The Best Man,” “The Trip to Bountiful” and “Enchanted April”

Along with the direction, what makes the action move is scenic designer Kevin Depinet’s “V” shaped rooms played off of by Hana Kim’s projections for a constantly changing sense of place. A shout-out also goes to dialect coach Kate DeVore.

Because Bertie’s “speech” announced a state of war with Germany, the play was also a reminder of how some people seeking power are impressed with dictators, and in the late 1930’s early 40’s, some people were swayed by Hitler’s rhetoric.

DETAILS: “The King’s Speech” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s “The Yard,”  800 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier, Chicago, through Oct. 20, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes with one intermission.  For tickets and other information visit ChicagoShakes.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


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