Review: Mike Bartlett channels Shakespeare for his new play King Charles III
Mike Bartlett's new play is a bold and clever endeavour that might not necessarily work perfectly but nonetheless has a great deal to be admired. It is certainly a play to talk about.
In King Charles III Bartlett imagines what our current Prince of Wales would be like as King. It begins just after the Queen's funeral when Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) is having a quiet moment with the family. There is William and Kate (Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson), Harry (Richard Goulding) and Camilla (Margot Leicester) but when the prime minister Mr Evans (Adam James) comes along the relationship between the new monarch and his government doesn't get off to a good start.
The core of the trouble is a bill restricting press freedom to which Charles has to give Royal Assent in order for it to pass into law. In history it's been around 300 years since a monarch refused consent but Charles feels he cannot sign something with which he disagrees.
It's admirable defending freedom of speech but he comes to the process too late and misunderstands his standing and place. His stubborn conviction of what is his duty miscalculates the modern perception of the role of monarchy and demonstrates how the relationship between the two is so delicately balanced.
Scenes such as Prince Harry in a kebab shop - he's fallen in love with commoner and desperately wants out of the Royal life - blend with soliloquy's.
At times you do wonder whether you are laughing at or with the play - it's borderline when the ghost of Diana appears in a manner reminiscent of Old Hamlet. But that said it does feel like both Bartlett and director Rupert Goold had their tongues firmly in their cheeks and for that reason I don't think it really matters.
This feels like a cross between the Madness of King George and King Lear but with the present Royal family as the cast. It is an enjoyable and engaging watch and the cast are startlingly alike the real people they play - has anyone seen Oliver Chris in the same room as Prince William? If Shakespeare was writing now I think King Charles III is something he would write.
King Charles III runs at the Almeida until May 31.
Three easy, off the top of my head, direct connections in this one. Mike Bartlett wrote Cock, Rupert Goold directed Richard II and Adam James was in The Pride.