King Charles III**** (Almeida Theatre)

Posted: May 9, 2014 in Theatre

photo-63Describing his work as a “future history play”, Mike Bartlett explores a time in which our beloved monarch of more than 60 years will no longer be with us, a time of confusion for the nation and of collective loss of identity. Daringly, he adopts the structure of a Shakespeare history play and writes in verse, moulding several of the characters to resemble those in the Bard’s plays – Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) begins as a dithering, well intentioned Richard II, miscalculating his power base, and then progresses to become a half-mad Lear; the wayward and dissolute Harry (Richard Goulding) is, obviously, Hal; most tellingly, Katharine (Lydia Wilson) is Lady Macbeth, plotting and scheming the path to the throne for her upright and ultimately ruthless husband, William (Oliver Chris). A not so merry wife of Windsor, Camilla (Margot Lester), looks on aghast and there is even a Palace ghost (Diana of course). The monarchy begins to unravel when the as yet uncrowned new King refuses to sign a Press Regulation Bill as a matter of principle, notwithstanding the fact that, as the (Labour) Prime Minister points out, he has, throughout his life, been one of the greatest victims of the rampant Press. Although he knew it all along, the King is now faced with the reality of the job which he has waited for more than half a century to take up, not being a job at all. He is just a meaningless, powerless figurehead. Inevitably a constitutional crisis ensues. Although plenty of good jokes are thrown in, this is not a comedy, but a serious examination of a quirky system of Government and a constitution that does not even exist. It is played out with all the dramatic force and pageantry associated with Shakespeare’s histories and, at just under three hours, it is of similar length. All that is missing are the bloody battles. Rupert Goold mounts a grand and impeccably acted production, buoyed by the confidence of knowing that neither he nor his Almeida seems capable of doing anything wrong right now. This is another significant hit for them, bold, different and riveting. The play paints an alarming and plausible picture of what could lie ahead in, hopefully, the not too near future. God Save the Queen!

Performance date: 9 May 2014

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