Theatre review: King Charles III
A Royal speculative drama that is both entertaining and respectful
If the British Royal Family has become the subject of international intrigue and tabloid gossip, King Charles III poses serious questions about the future of the British Monarchy. Mike Bartlett’s speculative piece, performed entirely in verse, is directed with entertaining by flair Rupert Goold, without losing the political intentions of the script,
Beginning after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, her son Charles, (ably played by Robert Powell) is quickly faced with his first problem as monarch: whether to sign a new bill into law that will curtail the freedom of the UK press, and bow to the will of the Prime Minister Mr Evans (Tim Treloar), or stick to his principles and refuse to sign the bill.
Due to the Prince of Wales history of interfering with political matters – his so-called ‘black spider letters’ to various government ministers are now in the public domain – Barlett's characterisation of Charles seems to have made him more naive than he appears in real life.
Goold's production casts King Charles as a tragic, almost sympathetic figure: from confident beginnings, he becomes increasingly frail, exhausted and beaten by the events of the play. With ghostly apparitions and ambitious wives dogging the protagonist, the spirit of Shakespearian tragedy is evoked, right up to the final, damning scenes.
By avoiding sensationalism, the play manages to be both entertaining and also respectful of its subject matter. It conjures a sense of admiration and repulsion towards some of the monarchy’s most familiar figures, from the hapless Harry (Richard Glaves) to the cool, calm presence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, played by Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden.
But Bartlett's script is thoughtful and provocative: Charles' tragedy reflects a dwindling role for a monarch as the British Empire and even the state gradually disappears. Featuring strong performances, a focused production and a coherent story, King Charles III is an excellent contemporary play that balances strong characterisation and serious political issues.