Pros: Outrageous, boundary pushing stuff! Lots of fun to watch, terrific acting, splendid setting and the unique opportunity to see the Royal Family fighting each other in front of your very eyes.
Cons: The Shakespearean verses may sometimes feel forced and the costumes didn’t get changed that much, but perhaps this was just a stylistic choice.
Fancy that: a ‘future history play’ about how the next monarch, His Royal Majesty King Charles, would handle politics in his country and manage to take it to the brink of civil war within a couple of months of his mother’s death. Now, add a full complement of Royal Family look-a-likes – Camilla, Prince William and Kate, Prince Harry… the whole lot – a Blairesque Labour Prime Minister, a hard-nosed Opposition Leader, and the passing ghost of Princess Diana. Shake well and try narrating in Shakespearean iambic verses.
The result is this outrageously entertaining, daringly provocative, hugely enjoyable play that no doubt would have had Mike Bartlett’s head rolling had it been staged a couple of centuries ago. To everyone’s fortune, the Monarchy has moved on since. Bartlett’s visionary play manages to outrage and provoke whilst remaining bewilderingly plausible. Satire is his weapon, used subtly to shave the edge off the emotionally-laden drama of King Charles III –‘the greatest King we never had’ – majestically interpreted by Tim Pigott-Smith. His grandiose aspirations and royal weaknesses leak through the whole play, but the character never loses his dignity.
The other characters were all brilliantly developed, with superb acting throughout and a hilarious resemblance to the real-life royals. Margot Leicester’s Camilla was movingly loyal to her Charles but no-one seemed to care –just like in real life… oh, pardon me! And how not to have Prince Harry become the instant favourite? Played by Richard Goulding, his naughty-but-confused boy attitude proved hilarious, especially paired with Republican leftie art student Jess (Tafline Steen). They were simply adorable. Oliver Chris’ restrained Prince William was a staunch contrast to Harry, but I really liked his hand-in-pocket posturing: it made him perfect alongside perennially smiling, naturally elegant yet surprisingly mischievous Kate (Lydia Wilson).
But King Charles III is much more than a play on the future king and his ability to rule. Above all, it’s a portrayal of British society and its continued balance between tradition and progress and its ambivalent yet indelible relationship with the Crown. It’s about the personal drama of being born into a role that you never asked for, yet one you can’t escape from. It may not be a coincidence that the most compelling dialogue was spoken by a kebab man (the brilliant Nyasha Atendi): ‘We have lost our Queen, we have lost the Royal Mail, piece by piece there will be nothing left of Britain’. Theatrically, there couldn’t have been a better setting than the cutting-edge Almeida, beefed up with circular stone carvings for the occasion, to give the whole performance Greek-theatre grandiosity. Tom Scutt’s essential design and Rupert Goold’s slick direction ensure that the focus is on the emotions rather than frills and whistles. No doubt, this show will be one to remember. Just don’t let the Prince of Wales know about it…
Author: Mike Bartlett
Director: Rupert Goold
Box Office: 02073594404
Booking Link: http://www.almeida.co.uk/event/kingcharles
Booking Until: 31st May 2014