How would you write speech fit for a king?

Raymond Coulthard as King George VI.
Raymond Coulthard as King George VI.
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We’ve had the film; now here comes the play as The King’s Speech heads for Chichester Festival Theatre, with Jason Donovan as Lionel Logue and Raymond Coulthard as King George VI.

The year is 1936, and King Edward VIII has abdicated for the love of Wallis Simpson. Bertie, his brother, is crowned King George VI of England.

At an office in Harley Street, London, Bertie and his wife Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) meet maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. They embark on a journey to overcome Bertie’s stammer and deliver the now-iconic speech broadcast across the globe.

It’s all part of a fascinating journey for a piece David Seidler felt compelled to write, a reflection of his own battle against a childhood stammer. He was held up to the stuttering young David as someone who had conquered his affliction. ‘My parents would say ‘Listen to his speeches on the radio”.’

‘I wrote it originally as a screenplay, but I got about two thirds of the way through and I was not quite sure how it was working out. I showed it to my then wife who is also a writer and a bright woman. She said that it was a little bit unfocused. She said ‘Why don’t you do it as a writing exercise and write it as a play?’

David did so; it worked – and so he found himself having to expand it again for the screenplay which became the celebrated film. Now he is taking it back to the play again.

‘One of the things that I had to eliminate for practicality sake was the children. There are no Logue sons; there are no royal children. When you use children on stage, you get into a lot of complexity.’

The essence, of course, remains, and it’s that essence which has made the story the phenomenon it is. ‘I think most people do understand what it is like to be bullied, teased and marginalised.

‘In America, they found that the film did exceptionally well in the black communities where you would not necessarily have expected huge interest in a dead British stuttering king! But it went down extremely well. The audience really acquainted with Bertie and understood his plight.’

The King’s Speech is at Chichester Festival Theatre from February 5-14.