Theatre review – King Charles III

What a brilliantly constructed piece of theatre King Charles III is, written by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold, and with Robert Powell playing the eponymous King.

Now on a national tour, the Yvonne Arnaud audience in Guildford was royally entertained last night by the ascension to the throne of Charles on the death of his long-reigning mother. Fictional, yes. But the drama is predicated on what we already know about the heir’s temperament, principles and personal interests.

Could he put those traits aside, when King, to ensure the  country enjoys the same stability and unity provided by Elizabeth II for over 60 years?

No, according to the playwright in this thought-provoking projection into what could be the very near future.

The plot hinges on the new King’s refusal to give royal assent to a new piece of legislation, already approved by both Houses of Parliament. He fears the attempt by law-makers to control the press strikes at the very heart of freedom of expression.

But what are the constitutional implications of such an impasse ‘twixt the democratically elected House of Commons and the monarchy?

The language in this production is as thrilling as the plot. Told in blank verse, there are several nods to our greatest dramatist.

The ghost of Diana, haunting both Charles and William, and cheekily predicting both will be the greatest King to rule the country, echoes the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father.

Catherine is portrayed as having the vaulting ambition of Lady Macbeth. Her hands may not end up spotted with blood, but she has a violent passion to drive William’s direction for her own benefit.

Poor Charles – brooding, intellectual, introspective – is Hamlet, too hesitant to act decisively.

And of course, there’s always a comic character to lighten the theatrical weight of any Shakespearian tragedy. Enter Harry, stage left, the aimless, gormless Prince doomed to being the buffoon, the fun uncle, the sideshow. Until he meets Jessica. In a nightclub. And whose past ends up providing the argument for the worst elements of the British press to be controlled, after all….

The writing, acting, music and staging combine to make this a really entertaining piece of what-if drama.

It’s provocative and subversive. It’s tragic and funny. It’s fictional and couldn’t happen.

Or could it…..?


2 thoughts on “Theatre review – King Charles III”

  1. I agree, it was an excellent play performed brilliantly and the beautiful music was an unexpected pleasure. I’d highly recommend it. Congratulations too on this insightful review as you’ve captured several new angles on the play that either I hadn’t seen before or that hadn’t stayed with me until your review reminded me of them. Thank you.

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