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.