With Elizabeth II’s reign coming to an end in the foreseeable future, tension over the future of the throne raises questions – not only of how Charles will succeed her and if he in fact should, but also what holds for the future of the monarchy. Elizabeth II is said to be a constant, reassuring figure holding the glue of the UK together – she’s been there through the country’s major changes – and with cuts and traditions vanishing, one could say she’s the remaining part of an old, traditional Britain. The question is, will it all fall apart when she dies?
Mike Bartlett’s new play King Charles III raises those questions and as a future history play explores the possible outcome and consequences of Charles seizing the throne. Elizabeth II has died and the new king has to find his feet as a monarch and step out of his late mother’s shadow. The prime minister presents him with a new bill that will limit the press and its contents, but Charles feels that democracy is threatened. Trying to find his own voice as a regent, he refuses to sign in an attempt to convince the prime minister to amend the bill. What follows is a public revolt, and politicians and royals try to save the monarchy, somehow without threatening democracy.
King Charles III is a hilarious but thoughtful and provocative take on the possible future of the British monarchy and state. Mike Bartlett’s writing is on-point and he writes with a delicate sense of language, matching patterns and expressions to every character, making the words believable in every part of the play. The idea is as relevant and genius as it is comical: playing on royal stereotypes and views on the royal family, combined with hidden quirks and character insights, King Charles III is like a mad play-pretend for the public, questioning our state but also encouraging us to see the royals as more than just weekly press material.
Tim Pigott-Smith is phenomenal as Charles and plays the prickly monarch with earnestness and an almost childish indecisiveness and naivety that really expose a man most like to mock. Margot Leicester finds Camilla’s tone and manner perfectly, and Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson make an impeccable William and Kate. Richard Goulding’s Harry has a fantastic urgency and he manages to create a very likeable and misunderstood Harry unknown to the public.
The cast is incredible, directed by mastermind Rupert Goold with fantastic theatrical images by Tom Scutt. Composer Jocelyn Pook’s score supports the piece beautifully with lots of genius details. All these elements combined have created a piece of intelligent, entertaining and highly thought-provoking theatre.
I am definitely going back for round two.
King Charles III is playing at Almeida Theatre until 31 May. For more information and tickets, see the Almeida Theatre website.