It’s a mad world, by George

AN enjoyable production of a great play, Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon depict the royal couple at the heart of this story of Georgian intrigue, eighteenth century manners and medical incompetence.

The Madness of George III, Wilde Enterprises at the New Wolsey, Ipswich, until Saturday, November 20.

An enjoyable production of a great play, Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon depict the royal couple at the heart of this story of Georgian intrigue, eighteenth century manners and medical incompetence.

Bennett has the knack of lending telling relevance to his dramatic works. Yes, this may be about the political machinations of a bygone age but the pursuit of power is just as ruthless and two-faced today as it was in the 1780s.

We laugh in recognition as government ministers collude in covert alliances.

As King George suffers the gross indignities thrust upon him by a parade of clueless physicians attempting to cure him of his “madness”; his son and heir waits on the Regency and the chance to put a bit of ostentatious style into royalty.

Simon Ward is the frail king who rails at the devils that beset him. Susan Penhaligon is Charlotte, his steadfast, loving queen.

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Their fine performances give the production a strong focus and they are ably supported, notably by Jamie Hinde as the humourless prime minister William Pitt (the younger) and Knight Mantell as Willis, the Lincolnshire doctor whose unorthodox approach to mental illness defies the conventional wisdom of bleeding, blistering and purging patients.

Bennett crafts some delicious scenes – none are more delightful than when the king directs a reading from Shakespeare’s King Lear... the tale, of course, of a king who goes mad.

It has to be said that the production, which is directed for a more conventional proscenium, does not make best use of the New Wolsey stage - perhaps some of the front of tabs exchanges could have been moved forward a few feet - and I might have wished for a more sumptuously appointed palace; I like a bit of splendour in my historical dramas.

LYNNE MORTIMER

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