The King's Speech

September 12

October 20, 2019

The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare

by David Seidler
directed by Michael Wilson

A Note from the Director

The King’s Speech is set just after one Great War, with another on the horizon. The Great Depression weighs on the world, and everything seems to be in the midst of struggle, challenge, and transition.

Though the play depicts a king and his two elder sons—King George V, David, Prince of Wales, and Albert, Duke of York—two monarchs who do not appear in this story are critical to understanding the time. George V’s grandmother was Queen Victoria, with the morals and traditions of the period that bears her name still influencing the decisions and behavior of the characters in this story. His granddaughter would be crowned Elizabeth II, still a young girl during the events of the play, and who, as queen for the past sixty-seven years, has witnessed rapid changes in both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Our characters are caught between the Victorian and the “Modern.” To a contemporary audience, the abdication of a king might seem fascinating or even romantic. At the time, however, it was shocking, even dangerous—something beyond imagination. In today’s post-Cold War world, Bolshevism might seem unsuccessful or passé. But in 1930s England, it was a serious threat to the established order of things (and to royal necks besides).

Queen Victoria knew nothing of radio broadcasts, while Elizabeth’s coronation was the first to be televised. In between the two, David and Albert (“Bertie” to his family) had to struggle with a new phenomenon: British subjects, spread over the vast reaches of a disintegrating empire, hungry to hear the royal voice.

Playwright David Seidler shows us a rich and captivating slice of history. We find ourselves in the company of giants—kings and queens and prime ministers and Winston Churchill, who is not yet the hero of the Free World. But like all good history plays, The King’s Speech is about the personal as well as the political, the private and the public, the psychological and the philosophical, and all the tensions—and fears—of living between those conflicting spheres.  

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