Writer: Mike Bartlett
Director: Rupert Goold with Whitney Mosery
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Direct to Milton Keynes from an acclaimed, sell-out run at the Almeida Theatre in London we have this week a royal visit, none other than King Charles III, in the form of a ‘future history’ play cleverly penned by Mike Bartlett. The play has received much praise in the press and many awards.
So the premise of the piece is that, after a very long wait in the wings, Prince Charles becomes King, following the demise of his long-reigning mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Charles has the power and the status at last but what sort of King will he be? How should he play it? We are taken on an oft-amusing and insightful journey that explores of the heart of democracy, the meaning of the monarchy and of the real people therein and their dilemmas.
The play opens with a powerful scene, set in Windsor Castle, with each cast member holding a candle and singing theAgnus Deifrom the Catholic Mass. It is thus that we learn that the Queen is dead. Even before his coronation, the new King sets off a huge constitutional crisis. Parliament has passed a bill curtailing press freedom, but Charles, in defence of everyone’s civil liberties, flies in the face of convention and refuses to give Royal Assent and to sign the bill into law. What can be done? It is around this conundrum that the play centres. Robert Powell, who replacesTim Piggott-Smithfor the tour, plays the eponymous lead. He does so with real subtlety, avoiding any attempt to impersonate Charles. His delivery of the iambic pentameter blank verse is superb and his portrayal of an unsure and ageing man desperate to show his ability as King is perfect.
Prince Harry is brought to us by Richard Glaves who gives us a convincing blend of a fun, silly, touching and somehow very likeable and it works. Jennifer Bryden’s Kate is a real surprise. She is uncannily like the real Kate in looks and there the similarities seem to end, but no spoilers here – an intriguing performance. Penelope Beaumont plays thedotingCamilla with style.
The two main politicians, Mr Evans the Labour Prime Minister, and Mr Stevens for theopposition are performed by Tim Treloar and Giles Taylor respectively. Both are utterly convincing in their different ways and the characters are deftly developed.
Ben Righton’s William is straight down the line, just as one would imagine, and all the better for it. It is only in the latter part of the piece that we see a different side to William, which Righton nicely understates. Acting from all other cast is excellent with some actors taking on several rôles. One strange element is the addition of the Diana ghost, which does not always receive perhaps an appropriate audience reaction.
The set is simple but very effective and Jon Clark’s lighting works wonderfully well.
Milton Keynes Theatre has done well to catch this royal tour and it is definitely one to watch. You are guaranteed to find this a very thought-provoking and entertaining play.
Runs until 17 October 2015 | Image: Richard Hubert Smith