As part of the programme of free streams of theatre performances recorded live for NTLive, the National Theatre has announced that on 11 June 2020 it will make available its recording of one of the theatrical highlights of 2018, Nottingham Playhouse’s sell-out production of Alan Bennett’s classic The Madness of George III, with a star cast headed by Mark Gatiss (‘sensational’ – The Guardian) in the title-role.
This will allow a worldwide audience to see the theatrical experience, with which King’s College London was closely associated through the Georgian Papers Programme, its collaboration with the Royal Collection trust, the Omohundro Institute and William and Mary to digitize, make available and interpret the papers of the monarchy between 1714 and 1837.
Among these papers are a vast number of papers relating to George’s illness, some of which have never been open to researchers before, including the daily reports throughout his several bouts of mental illness of his doctors to the Prince of Wales/Prince Regent, the future George IV.
The GPP worked closely with the Nottingham Production from the outset, having earlier staged an evening in which King’s theatre professor Alan Read interviewed Alan Bennett and director Nicholas Hytner about the original production and the film version that followed a few years later (You can watch it here).
The project academic director, historian Professor Arthur Burns, and King’s professor of psychological medicine, Sir Simon Wessely, worked with the cast during rehearsal to help them understand both the king and his illness.
The project then hosted a visit by Mark Gatiss to Windsor Castle to view documents which shed light on the character of the king whom he embody so brilliantly – a visit recorded both for the NTLive preshow film, and in an online version of the exhibit which can still be viewed.
Members of the project team at the Royal Archives supplied facsimiles of some of the originals of the documents which feature in the play which became the basis of the props used on stage and Professor Burns provided a pre-show talk to a full house early in run in Nottingham.
This was a very successful collaboration in its own right – but it is also a great example of how making academic research available to a wider audience also changes the research.
A year after the performances, King’s organised a very successful evening in which Mark Gatiss and the director of Nottingham Playhouse, Adam Penford were reunited to discuss the production with Simon Wessely, Karin Wulf and Arthur Burns, who also prepared a second online exhibition to accompany the event, which can be watched here.
Preparing for the discussion, and then talking about how it felt to play and direct the king with the insights of the historians and psychiatrist, raised a whole series of new questions about how the king’s illness affected his family and his role as monarch, and also about how approaches to it have changed over time not just through medical advances but through two hundred years of exchanges between historians, doctors and a wider public. The Georgian Papers team are now actively researching all three topics.
The livestream can be watched on YouTube from Thursday 11 June . At the same time Nottingham Playhouse are producing a podcast reuniting some of the cast with the director in which Arthur Burns will also take part, while the other online materials associated with the production can all still be viewed on the Georgian Papers website.
NTLive have made available the introductory film for the NTlive show, which shows members of the GPP, Arthur Burns and Oliver Walton, taking Mark Gatiss round Windsor Castle on YouTube.