Brighton Open Air Theatre on a balmy evening is one of the jewels in the city’s crown and that crown becomes further bejewelled when The Sarah Mann Company are in residence. Previous productions have included a superb Abilgail’s Party and Alan Bennett’s brilliant The Lady In The Van, two plays that show that Ms Mann is not short of ambition. Nor is she and her company short of talent, so much so that this season they have taken on yet another Bennet and this time one with a massive cast and in period costume.

The Madness of King George III has a company of 23 players, many of who take on multiple roles, a requirement that puts designer Sean Chapman to task but this is a task that he was born to undertake and he does it superbly, so much so that each character is defined clearly by costumes and wigs and of course by the actors dramatic skills.The setting is simple, an ornate sofa, two rather regal chairs and two chaise longue and nothing more until George is confined to a grim restraining chair. It all works effortlessly well as do the lavish costumes and outrageous wigs.

The cast are beautifully drilled too, from the major characters to the flunkies and courtiers, but at the heart of this poignant play, that clearly reflects attitudes to the role of royalty, there has to be George III.

On this occasion the role is played by Nathan Ariss. Ariss is simply magnificently regal, pompous, grand and very funny, and then, as illness drags him down he is magnificently and unsettlingly convincing as a broken man with serious mental health issues. This is an award deserving performance and one that I urge you to see.

The rest of this production is also bejewelled with sparkling performances from Sarah Mann as a devoted Queen Charlotte, Paddy Cooper as the conniving buffoon The Prince of Wales and Amelia Armande as a very camp Duke of York. Pip Henderson is the dignified Lady Pembroke and would be assassin Margaret Nicholson and Doug Devaney gives a terrific staring rendering of Dr Willis. Robert Cohen’s wiry Sir George Baker is beautifully observed and Julian Parkin’s Dr Warren is supremely arrogant. The final quack, Sir Lucas Pepys is comically scatological in the hands of Ross Gurney-Randall, and in stark contrast to his other role as the rather driven Fox. Josh Crisp is solidly stern as Pitt and Murray Simon wonderfully self driven as Thurlow.

Around them a cast of servants and court officials, two many to name, buzz like flies as they observe and ignore the protocols of court life but the balance of touching devotion and reverence is beautifully observed.

Bennett’s play is so timely still, stirring up thoughts about sovereignty and republicanism at a time when the current British royal family is so keenly observed.

The Sarah Mann Company have once again delivered a gem, a gem with a stunning choral surprise too, and this is one not to miss.

Andrew Kay

12 July

Brighton Open Air Theatre

[rating 5/5]

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