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Oxford Playhouse, Oxford

I normally dislike “what if” novels and plays, rewrites of or projections onto history, so I was quite sceptical about the play King Charles III by Mike Bartlett despite it successes in the West End and on Broadway. I am now abashed and have to tell you that for once the critics have it right – it is a really excellent, thought-provoking, witty and ultimately moving play.

I could say a lot about the excellent, evocative production by Rupert Brook (and Whitney Mosery) that is now touring the country. The actors work well together as an ensemble, a real team, playing off each other smoothly. Robert Powell is totally convincing as the troubled, dilemma-inducing Charles finally become king. No one tries to imitate the person he or she is playing. There is simply a lovely sequence where, essentially, we are introduced to each actor playing Camilla, Kate, Harry, William, and others in turn; and each introduction gets a chortle or laugh; as do the introductions of the future Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. At that point you have recognition, and the play can really get going.

But the Spitting Image approach very quickly is overtaken by the real crux of the tale being told – a genuine constitutional crisis provoked when the monarch of the UK refuses to sign into law something that he believes is bad for the country and that he feels, therefore, he must make the Parliament think about again. The way this is worked out and the denouement are extremely clever; and I fear that if I praise the play any more, I will introduce too many spoilers for those who do not know it. All I can say is this: the arguments on both sides are trenchant while the dramatization of the dispute is very strong and believable. The sets, costumes and music all add to the experience of the play. And watch out for the way the opening and closing sequences mirror each other.

This is an excellent evening in the theatre at the highest level and even if you have seen the play already, this incarnation is well worth a visit for both experiencing a trenchant, topical drama that could have you debating with your friends for days and to enjoy a really fine evening of high quality theatre.

  • Drama
  • By Mike Bartlett
  • Director: Rupert Goold with Whitney Mosery
  • Cast Includes: Robert Powell, Penelope Beaumont, Jennifer Bryden, Ben Righton, Richard Glaves, Giles Taylor, Tim Treloar, Beatrica Walker
  • Oxford Playhouse, Oxford
  • Currently on UK Tour
  • Review by Mel Cooper
  • 26 February 2016

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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