Entertainment & Arts

The King's Speech play has its world premiere

Charles Edwards (centre) with Jonathan Hyde and Emma Fielding in The King's Speech
Image caption Charles Edwards (centre) with Jonathan Hyde and Emma Fielding in The King's Speech

Almost a year after the film reigned supreme at the Oscars, The King's Speech has finally made it to the stage.

A packed house at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, Surrey, gave the play a rousing reception at its world premiere on Thursday night.

Playwright David Seidler called it "the fulfilment of a very long dream".

Seidler originally wrote his story about King George VI for the stage before he developed the screenplay.

Seidler went on to win an Oscar and Bafta for best screenplay for The King's Speech in 2011.

But the play has never actually been performed until now.

The film starred Colin Firth as Bertie, the king who conquered his debilitating stammer with the help of maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

In this stage version, the lead role is taken by Charles Edwards, with Australian-born Jonathan Hyde as Logue, and Emma Fielding as Queen Elizabeth.

Joss Ackland plays King George V and Ian McNeice is Winston Churchill. The play is directed by former RSC artistic director Adrian Noble.

Speaking exclusively to the BBC after the premiere, Seidler - who himself had a childhood stammer - said it had been a "very emotional night".

"When I was a very young boy in the late 40s, my grandfather would take me to the Golders Green Hippodrome to see these wonderful creaky old British plays in which the diva and the leading man would swoop on stage and stand in the spotlight.

Image caption David Seidler originally wrote The King's Speech as a stage play

"To me, as a little boy of eight or nine years old, it was absolute magic and I thought, 'I really want to be part of that world' - which was a strange ambition for a boy who stuttered and couldn't talk.

"Well, that little boy got a big thrill tonight."

Plans to bring the play to the stage were in place before the film became a huge international hit, making $414m (£261m) at the global box office.

Seidler said he had no second thoughts about staging the production so soon after the film's success.

"This is what I've always wanted," he said. "I had always envisaged the film as being something that would give me a little bit of money so I could help get this on the boards.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful, and I'm not, I'm so very pleased and happy the film did as well as it did. Winning an Oscar is just a wonderful thing to happen - certainly at my age - but this is what I wanted. This to me is more fulfilling than all the movies in the world."

The stage version of The King's Speech allows Seidler to explore characters and themes more deeply than Tom Hooper's film.

"There is now a fully fleshed out relationship between Lionel and his wife Myrtle that didn't exist in the film," he said. "The stage version has a great deal more of the politics and I think a great deal more humour - it's a richer canvas."

Seidler began researching his storyline for The King's Speech throughout the 1970s and 80s but abandoned it after the Queen Mother asked him not to pursue the project during her lifetime.

Image caption Colin Firth as Bertie (King George VI) in the film version of The King's Speech

After the Queen Mother died in 2002, Seidler returned to writing the play. It was in 2005, at a script reading in London, that director Tom Hooper's mother spotted its movie potential and told him she'd found his next film.

With unconfirmed reports that the Queen had seen and enjoyed the film version of The King's Speech, would Seidler invite her to see the play?

"Any time Her Majesty would like a house seat, let me know and I will arrange it. I think it's unlikely, but I would love her to see it - it would be a great honour."

The King's Speech is at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford until 11 February. It will then tour to Nottingham, Bath, Brighton, Richmond and Newcastle.

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