Mike Bartlett's King Charles III opens, as the house lights dim slowly, with the foreseeable news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. From there it builds a dark tapestry with an acerbic wit and a cleverness geared only for Britons and Anglophiles.
After a lifetime of waiting, Prince Charles ascends the throne with Camilla by his side. As William, Kate and Harry look on, Charles prepares for the future of power that lies before him...but how to rule? [King Charles III] explores the people underneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of Britain's democracy and the conscience of its most famous family.
Billed as "a future history," Bartlett cleverly plays upon Shakespearean style and works, most notably Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear, to create a modern play that almost achieves what appears to be his vision. Written in blank verse, the text loses some of its oomph by the time it reaches the audience. Some of the actors are clearly not familiar with Shakespearean acting methods; the rhythm of speech needs be a bit different from the 'normal' speech patterns we use in our everyday lives in order for it to translate well into the spoken word.
Charles struggles with his duties to tradition and to self--learning, on the job, of what his prerogatives truly are with respect to both power and ceremony. This premise wasn't entirely believable as the real-life Prince Charles seems to be (contrary to popular media opinions) rather informed and intelligent.
Tim Piggott-Smith performs a highly nuanced and believable version of Charles. Oliver Chris (as Prince William) does admirably, despite being saddled with an easily manipulated, watery character. Despite the best efforts of Margot Leicester, the role of Camilla didn't seem to add much to King Charles III. An understudy, Rachel Spencer Hewitt, performed the role of Kate--and, frankly, gave the best performance of the night. Conversely, Sally Scott did a major disservice to Diana's Ghost.
Jon Clark (lighting design) and Jocelyn Pook (composer) added an incredible amount of talent to the production. King Charles III certainly deserves a few awards (the design team added so much to an otherwise dull theatrical event).
As a self-professed Anglophile, I was very much looking forward to seeing this play. I readily appreciated the bits of dry humor peppered throughout the show; however, for the first time ever, I was prepared to bolt a Broadway theatre during intermission. Thankfully, the Second Act was a saving grace and got progressively better. Still, as the actors retook the stage for their final bow, I was already walking hurriedly towards the exit. The performance, at The Music Box theatre, I reviewed for Queer Voices was on December 21st, 2015.
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This article originally appeared on Queer Voices at http://queer-voices.com/2016/01/king-charley-iii-critically-acclaimed-by-others/