Interview: Jason Donovan on The King’s Speech

Raymond Coulthard (King George VI) & Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue). Picture:  Hugo Glendinning
Raymond Coulthard (King George VI) & Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue). Picture: Hugo Glendinning
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‘I DON’T sing, that’s for sure. I love to sing but I don’t like doing it eight times a week. I find that is something that, as I get older, I don’t enjoy as much.”

Jason Donovan is being candid about his return to the Capital next week, to star as Lionel Logue in the revival of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech, the hit play that inspired the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name.

It’s a very different piece to the one that last brought the former Neighbours star to town, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and the 46-year-old is loving the challenge.

“It’s a wonderful play and for me. It encompasses everything I ever wanted to do on stage in a dramatic capacity... and I don’t have to worry about the accent,” he laughs.

Directed by Roxana Silbert, the play charts events in the Royal Household of 1936.

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 in London, Bertie and his wife Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) are meeting Australian maverick speech therapist and failed actor, Lionel Logue.

With the support of his wife, Bertie and Logue embark on an extraordinary journey to overcome his stammer and deliver the now iconic speech broadcast across the globe to inspire his people.

As the world stood against the Nazi threat, The King’s Speech is the true and heart-warming story of a greatly loved royal family who took this nation through its darkest hour.

In this production, Donovan plays the speech therapist opposite Raymond Coulthard, best known as Miles Egerton in ITV’s Mr Selfridge, as King George VI.

“It’s a great role,” he states.

“There’s a lot for me to try to get right about it and so far I think, I’ve succeeded. The tour has been well received.”

The King’s Speech is, he reveals, a play that, in theatrical parlance, spent many years waiting in the wings.

“I know for a fact that David Seidler had written to the Queen asking if he could tell the story about Lionel Logue and the King’s relationship.

“But the Queen Mother didn’t want it developed until she passed away, so he had to sit on it for a long time,” he explains. “It was actually written in sketch form many, many years ago.”

As Logue, Donovan follows in the steps of Geoffrey Rush who played the role in the movie.

“When I watched the film, not in the slightest did I ever think it was a role I might play. Then I got a call from the producer, Mark Goucher,” recalls Donovan.

“I’d been offered of few things by him in the past but nothing had come to fruition. When this landed on my desk I read it and couldn’t put it down. I rang him and said I wanted to do it... and here we are.”

Despite the impact of the movie, which won four Oscars, Donovan has no worries about comparisons being made between the two.

“I don’t think there are any. It’s a very familiar title for the audience but the piece was conceived as a play first and there are elements of the play that are very different from the film. The same core of it is there, but I don’t think you can compare the two really.”

Preparing for the role, the actor managed to find a book about Logue’s life, but avoided revisiting the movie.

“I discovered he was a little bit more of an eccentric than I thought.

“Geoffrey Rush was quite eccentric but I can’t quite remember the film and I haven’t gone back to rewatch it.

“That is a good thing because the essence of finding the character for me was about the script and really getting out the meaning of the words.

“Then there were a couple of light bulb moments in the rehearsal room that defined the physicality of the guy as well.”

He adds, “You never quite know whether the characterisation or the written piece represents the person as he was, but then, what makes this relationship so interesting is that he is Australian, from a classless meritocracy, and he is a therapist, at a time when therapy was a very modern concept.

“He is treating a man who is at the top of the aristocratic tree. So they are complete opposites. That’s why it works.”

In real life, Donovan believes Logue became very protective of his relationship with the King.

“There’s a line in the play: ‘We must be equals when trying to treat this problem’.

“Stuttering is not a physical problem, it’s a mental problem, so for therapy he had right attitude.

“After all, in those days English doctors in Harley Street would have given him electric shock believing him to be a weird person.”

A production of which he is “very proud”, Donovan admits he is excited to be bringing it to the Capital.

“Edinburgh always has the thumbs up on the touring schedule. Lots of nice bars to hang out in and I enjoy my walks. There’s always a lot to do,” he says.

Laughing, he adds, “And I’m looking forward to seeing if that tram ever makes it down The Walk to the docks.”

The King’s Speech, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, next Monday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000