Michael Pennington is about to star (as George III) in a rare UK stage
revival of Alan Bennett's The Madness Of George III at the Birmingham
Actor, author, director - there don't seem to be many vacant moments
in Michael Pennington's very busy life.
This year alone he's seen his latest book published, he's done an
extensive UK tour of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman, he's performing
The Madness of George III at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and he's
just finished playing Doctor Dorn in The Seagull, which was one of
the undisputed sell-out hits of the Edinburgh Festival.
A respected and admired actor
Michael Pennington is one of the most respected and admired stage
actors of his generation. And yet he has never actively courted wider
recognition on film or television. It has avoided him. Or maybe he
has avoided it? Which is possibly why, without the burden of carrying
a screen persona around with him, he has been able to slip into every
theatre role he chooses.
The Madness of George III will be his first foray into Alan Bennett
territory. And it's his debut at The REP. But why The Madness?
Why choose The Madness?
Pennington replied simply that he was talking to Ian Brown (the Artistic
Director and Chief Executive of West Yorkshire Playhouse) earlier
in the year, and pushed the idea that it would be interesting to "mount
a major revival of a really strong play, a modern classic, that had
not been given the attention, for one reason or another, that it really
"Bennett's play was first done at the National, and then by them
on tour, and rarely since, but it wasn't one that I'd initially thought
of - it was Ian's clever idea."
With a large cast, it has proved beyond the capabilities of commercial
companies and regional theatres - until now. The combined forces and
resources of The REP and that of the West Yorkshire Playhouse make
it possible, and Pennington, for one, is delighted.
A way forward for theatres
"I think that the combination of the two theatre’s for this (and the
co-production of A View From The Bridge) is ingenious, and courageous,
and a way forward for regional theatres to do things that are really
rather special", he said.
When he was approached to play the stricken King he agreed without
hesitation: "I think that one of my failings", he said, "is that I
am not very good at making choices for myself. I like to be approached
with ideas. I'm a bit like the girl in the corner, waiting to be asked
A remarkable monarch
He's loving working on The Madness of George III (which is directed
by Rachel Kavanaugh) "and I'm growing fonder of the king by the day.
He was a rather remarkable monarch, in that he took a very genuine
interest in his subjects and, in effect, was the inventor of the 'Royal
"He'd be out riding somewhere, and thought nothing of popping
into one of his subjects' cottages, and talking to them about the
weather, the price of turnips, or what their crops were doing. He
was nicknamed 'Farmer George', and one can see why. He had a very
real naturalness, and that was rare, well, unknown, in those days.
I'd call him an 'instinctive democrat', not at all remote, and very
"And, did you know, he actually got married on the day he met his
wife? An arranged dynastic union, but they fell in love with each
other, had fifteen children together (two of whom died in infancy),
and were faithful to each other until the day that they died.
"And, remember, he lived until his early eighties. They called
themselves 'Mr and Mrs King', which was rather sweet. I admire George
very much, and all his many idiosyncrasies. When his doctors gave
him medication, for example, he'd always multiply the dose, in the
belief that more was a lot better for him than less. A tumbler instead
of a teaspoon.
" But above all, I like the way, in spite of all his tribulations,
his motto seemed to be 'let's get on with it, and go forward!'"
Interview by Phil Penfold.
of the production
of George III by Alan Bennett is showing at the Birmingham Repertory
Theatre from 22nd October until 15th November.
Tickets can be obtained from the Box Office on 0121 236 445 or you
can book online at www.birmingham-rep.co.uk