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Wednesday 23 April 2014

King Charles III, play by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold, Almeida Theatre London, 7* out of 10

A day in the not too distant future; the Queen is dead, Long live the King! On the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles, Prince of Wales has become King Charles III (Tim Piggot-Smith). While Charles is awaiting his coronation,  the Labour prime minister of the day presents new legislation, strengthening privacy protection and thereby restricting the freedom of the press. Seeing himself as the protector of democracy Charles, takes a principled stand defending press freedom and asks the government to change the legislation. For this he seeks the support of the leader of the opposition.

As both sides remain steadfast the situation escalates. Prince William  (Oliver Chris) and his astute and ambitious wife Kate, played with gusto by a very watchable Lydia Wilson, observe the situation with concern;  meanwhile, hapless and disheveled Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) falls in love is a republican arts student from St. Martin’s, who shows him that happiness may lie in a paternity test and the simpler life of a commoner.

The cut and thrust of politics and royal intrigue takes its course and the ghost of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, haunts both her former husband and her elder son, as they inevitably get drawn in ever more deeply into the political mire.

"King Charles III" is Mark Bartlett's bold and -  in today's Britain - eminently controversial stab at writing “a future history play”; copious self-conscious references to William Shakespeare are included both in the chosen genre and the writing. Is it supposed to be a drama that is based on a realistic premise? It can be read this way, but to me it appeared as part parody, part tragic comedy; humour is thrown in and succeeds in lightening things up. Whatever Bartlett intended, the quality of the writing is high.

The set, in a round purple hue makes impressive use of the theatre space. Sound, lighting and music work together well and to good effect.  The direction is handled skilfully by Rupert Goold, the choreography of crowd scenes by Anna Morissey inventive. Tim Piggot-Smith gives an excellent performance as King Charles: wracked by doubt, yet principled, kind to his family, na├»ve as far as his dealings with crafty politicians are concerned.  Other members of the cast give strong performances, too. Oliver Chris plays Charles's son William as a loving son and feminist husband, who must consider the future of his dynasty; Margot Leicester is a concerned Camilla, a loyal wife to troubled King Charles. Adam James and Nicholas Rowe are credible as leaders of the Labour and Conservative party, respectively.

"King Charles III" is an interesting and thought provoking play. It is recommended for those who have a strong interest in UK politics, the constitutional role of the Monarch and the current royals and their, at times, turbulently grotesque private lives.

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