The start of Mike Bartlett’s new future history play is very promising and moody, with a beautiful candle lit procession accompanied by spiritual chanting. I wish I could say that it’s all uphill from there on. To attempt to portray the current royal family is always fraught with difficulty. Some writers succeed while others fail miserably. Do you show them to be exactly like us – mere mortals – or do you give them dialogues that sit closer to their public persona. In King Charles III, Mr Bartlett has chosen a mixture of both but has also channeled his inner Shakespeare. It is a history play after all.
Our dear Queen is dead and the royal family returns to their pile where Charles and Camilla contemplate his coming reign. Soon, however, all hell breaks loose when the new Kind decides that he won’t sign a law that will curtail the freedom of the press. As we all know, the monarch’s role in this procedure is mere rubber-stamping. Unless of course, another Hitler like figure was to come to rule the country and then our dear monarch would stop all that nonsense. In the meantime, however, Kind Charles III is expected to sign.
This is drama after all so things must happen to make sure we stay seated for the full 3 hours (don’t say you haven’t ben warned). The Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, William, Kate, Camilla, Harry, the King’s Private Secretary all opine about Charles’ obligations, rights, duty, precedents…. Even Diana’s ghost appears to both Charles and William.
There are moments of beautiful writing during the evening and then there are some real clunkers. Many times, the audience just chuckled at what was happening on stage but I just don’t think this was the intention of the writer. Of course, Will & Kate are the answer to all our problems, Harry is the directionless playboy who falls for a girl who takes him to Sainsbury’s (really?), the Tory leader of the opposition is a bit of a snake (facile political jab?), Camilla is eager for her prince to not rock the boat (she’s almost there after all) and what Charles really wants is to read books (and talks to his plants of course). Did I mention that Diana appears to the heir and the spare in the most comical and embarrassing scenes? Beneath all this, there is a good play that is sometimes even very good but not consistently so.
Tim Pigott-Smith is utterly convincing as the King who can’t for the life of him handle his duties as his mother did for so many years. If you have been following the news recently, you will certainly know that the Prince of Wales has indeed interfered many times in the affairs of state and that his correspondence to ministers could become public after a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals.
Adam James, as the Prime Minister, is excellent while Nicholas Rowe does a fabulous job as the not so straight talking opposition leader. Oliver Chris as William has the current heir’s shy stiffness down to a tee and is convincing as the reluctant hero of the adventure. Lydia Wilson plays Kate with confidence but is handed a difficult pack of cards as the scheming future Queen. Margot Leicester shows us a Camilla that is good but less convincing (and her flowing dress doesn’t help recall the always formally attired wife of our future king). Richard Goulding is funny and irreverent as Harry but less convincing when he decides to chuck it all for a woman he only met a fortnight ago. Fear not though, as his latest squeeze, Jess, played very well by Tafline Steen, is not on the dole but a student at St Martin’s School of Arts (one has one’s standards to uphold after all). Do you think his salary, as a normal punter Joe Bloggs, will pay for his extravagant life style and polo playing weekends? My companion was quite insistent that it is not his position that matters but his fame and that he cannot eschew that in the same way that Rihanna can’t decide to not be famous overnight. We are in the 21st century after all. The rest of the cast is all excellent (Nick Sampson, Nyasha Hatendi, Tom Robertson) but I would make a special mention for the very brave Katie Brayben who portrays Diana’s ghost amongst her three roles and who had to cross the stage three times to sniggering by the audience. The play is well directed by Rupert Goold, the Almeida’s new Artistic Director. The design by Tom Scutt is perhaps too minimal for my liking and not as interesting as past Almeida productions.