The R&T Times: Stage set for a King

The stage production of the multi-award winning film The King’s Speech will be coming to Richmond Theatre in the New Year. Jessica Abrahams speaks to writer David Seidler.

Royal stage: The Oscar-winning The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, is to return to the stage

The script for the multi-award winning film The King’s Speech had its first reading in the quiet sitting room of a house in Richmond. Now, five years and many Oscars later, its 73-year-old writer David Seidler is returning to the borough for the stage production.

“My very good friend the theatre director Alan Cohen lives in Richmond,” Seidler tells me.

“The first proper reading of the script was in his living room so you could say it’s gone full-circle – it’s coming back to beautiful Richmond.”

The script was originally written as a play but has only ever been performed on stage once, a rehearsed reading at Islington’s Pleasance Theatre in 2007, a production which Cohen directed.

Seidler had wanted to write the play for decades. Born in London, his family fled to America at the beginning of the Blitz. It was during the long journey across the Atlantic he developed a stutter.

“My stutter affected everything I did,” he says. “If you ever have the chance to be reincarnated, don’t volunteer to come back as a child stutterer.”

But he took solace in listening to the rousing speeches of King Albert on the radio. “The King was far worse than you,” his parents would tell him.

Seidler continued to struggle with his stutter for many years until finally one day, aged 16, he decided that enough was enough.

He was angry and frustrated and started to spit out swear words – an event he incorporated into the film – and soon after his stutter was cured.

He took up writing as a student. “I went off to university to be a botanist, but I had an English teacher who was irresponsible enough to encourage me,” he says. He always knew he wanted to write about the King who had helped him overcome his stutter.

In 1981, he managed to track down Valentine Logue, the son of the King’s speech therapist Lionel, and wrote to him in London. Valentine offered him his father’s notebooks – but on the condition that Seidler got permission from the Queen Mother.

Dutifully, he wrote to Clarence House and received a reply. “Please, Mr Seidler, not during my lifetime,” the letter reads. “The memory of those events is still too painful.”

So it was not until 2005, three years after the Queen Mother’s death, he sat down to write the play. It is clearly a very personal story for him.

“I could really sympathise with that character,” he says. “I had a very similar experience to [King] Bertie, I think.

“There’s a cliché in writing circles that you should ‘write what you know’ but we shouldn’t dismiss that just because it’s clichéd. For me, it’s important to write about emotions that you know, but nobody was going to be interested in the story of a little boy called David with a stutter.

“With The King’s Speech, I was able to write about myself in disguise.”

The script received a frosty reception, however.

“I’ve got a wonderful collection of rejection letters,” he jokes. “The script has been turned down by some of the most fantastic people.

“It was turned down by the National Theatre twice. I have a letter from them I will treasure forever. It just said: ‘Mr Seidler, this is not a play and if it were ever to become one it would still not be for us.’ ”

Of course the incredible success of the film, which won four Oscars and grossed $414m worldwide, has proven otherwise, but Seidler warns that the stage version “is a different beast.”

“I hope people will find it a very different experience,” he says. “The demands of the stage are different and there are certain constraints.

“The film production was huge, it was vast. For the theatre we’ve reduced the cast to just nine people, but that’s all you need for the stage. I want people to come in with an open mind because it’s going to be a totally different experience.”

The King’s Speech will be at Richmond Theatre from Monday, March 5, to Saturday, March 10. Visit http://www.atgtickets.com/richmond or call 0844 871 7651.

by Jessica Abrahams. Originally published in the Richmond & Twickenham Times, 16 December 2011. View here.

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