[Robert Powell as King Charles III. Image by Richard Hubert Smith]
KING CHARLES III
Opera House, Manchester
Until Saturday 12th March, 2016
Shakespearean in its scope and incredibly provocative in its approach, Mike Bartlett’s blank verse, hypothetical, ‘future history play’ offers a searing imagining of the future of the British monarchy following the death of Elizabeth II, and is without doubt one of the strongest and boldest plays British theatre has seen this last decade.
Having waited a lifetime to fulfil his destiny, Prince Charles now ascends the throne with a feisty Camilla by his side. In the weeks leading up to his coronation, the play depicts a restrained and increasingly weary King Charles; a man struggling to accept the ceremonial role of the monarchy, refusing to give his approval for a new Parliamentary bill to limit freedom of the press and slowly deceived by those closest to him.
Though there are flavours of the real characters shining through, Bartlett’s play is so full of distinct metaphors and references to The Bard’s historical and political tragedies that it is impossible not to draw comparison between the various characters. At the forefront we have Charles as a King Lear figure, old at the time of ascension and increasingly weary and crumbling – right down to the final symbolic check mate – then we have William and Kate, here boldly depicted as a Macbethian pairing, with William’s prince-in-waiting slowly turned to the seductive powers of the thrown by a calculating Kate, surruptititously plotting and scheming behind their photogenic demeanour. Throw in numerous soliloquies, civil unrest, a clever use of blank verse and haunting appearances from the enigmatic ghost of Diana and you have a searing homage to some of Shakespeare’s greatest works.
As expected, Rupert Goold and Whitney Mosery’s direction is very impressive. Slick and perfectly paced, the production’s clear rhythm elegantly flows through the play’s various (and numerous) locations. Tom Scutt’s superb composite, bare-brick set offers an imposing, arena-style setting, complete with flickering candles and a sinister lighting rig, looming directly above the action – the perfect space for this devious chess game to unfold. The atmosphere is only further enhanced by the superb work of Lighting Designer Jon Clark and Sound Designer Paul Arditti, not to mention the chilling choral score from composer Jocelyn Pook.
Taking over the reins from Tim Pigott-Smith, Robert Powell is exceptional in the central role. Refraining from parody – though maintaining a number of familiar mannerisms – Powell’s moving perfomance perfectly conveys the conflicting traits and feelings that lie within Bartlett’s majestic creation, a man out of his depth and immediately confronted with major dilemmas after a lifetime of waiting in line and losing touch with the real world.
Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden are excellent as William and Kate, adorned in their familiar garb – jumper, shirt and trousers for William and black polo neck top and pencil skirt for Kate – giving us a clear picture of the cunning strategists that lie behind the smiles.
Richard Glaves’ sulky Harry (complete with black hoody – black being a recurring theme) is a disillusioned and disenchanted soul, finding solace in common everywoman, Jess (an excellent Lucy Phelps), a punky Republican who gives the prince a taste of the real world, causing him to further question his future path and loyalty. Glaves performance is strong, however under Goold and Mosery’s direction it does veer a little too far into Spitting Image style caricature at times.
Tim Treloar is a standout as Prime Minister Mr Evans, and there is nice work too from Penelope Beaumont as Camilla and Dominic Jephcott as press secretary, James Reiss.
From the haunting and lengthy opening choral procession, right through to the glorious closing coronation, Mike Bartlett’s outstanding play is British theatre at its finest, most provocative and most entertaining.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at the Opera House, Manchester: Saturday 12th March, 2016.
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.