What will happen when the Queen is no longer with us? It’s an inevitability – a sad truth that will one day become reality, something that a huge proportion of Brits and people across the world are not looking forward to. Queen Elizabeth II is a remarkable monarch and woman, having seen the country through decades of highs and lows. One day, she will no longer be here, and the crown will pass down – most likely, to Prince Charles. Mike Bartlett explores what it could be like in the days and weeks following the Queen’s death in his satirical play King Charles III. Directed by Rupert Goold and Whitney Mosery, this bold production imagines that which a lot of people fear – the rise of a relatively unpopular monarch, and the way the public and royal family respond to the loss of a great figurehead.
Winner of the 2015 Best New Play award from both The Critic’s Circle and Olivier Awards, the show begins with the funeral of the Queen, sombre and atmospheric with monastery music and candlelight. Throughout the production the dark comedy is interspersed with ethereal scenes, slightly chilling (and sometimes confusing), breaking up the political comment. I’m not that interested in politics, but I have to admit that I was intrigued by the reactions of the politicians and other members of the Family in this fictitious account. I wonder if, when the strange time of monarchy change actually comes, I’ll be sat comparing the reality to the play…
The cast were all incredibly strong, and I was pleased that there was little attempt at impersonation of the royals. The only actor seemingly chosen for his resemblance to the part was Richard Glaves playing Harry – with his ginger hair and over-zealous Etonian accent, he did however provide the majority of the comedic relief in what may have otherwise been a very heavy political drama. There is a subplot which circles around Harry’s desire to uproot and follow his heart with rebellious Jess (Lucy Phelps). This additional storyline is both light-hearted and tragic, a suggestion at what may really be going through the mind of the prince who will never be king.
Charles himself was performed brilliantly by Robert Powell, exposing a depth of humanity to the man that is inevitably there in real life but seldom broadcast to the rest of the world. Torn between ambition, duty, and obligation, you watch his struggle with the expectation of those around him and the deep rooted belief that this was what he was born to do. At the heart of this struggle is the call for a law to limit the freedom of the press – a moral and political dilemma of freedom of speech versus the privacy of the public. Throughout his personal turmoil, Charles is supported ruthlessly by Camilla (Penelope Beaumont) who is determined to see her husband succeed regardless of the opinions of the country. Whilst the depiction of Camilla could easily be considered unfair when you think of the public image we have of her, taken out of the context of “this could happen”, we instead see a wife who is fiercely loyal to her husband – an admirable trait regardless.
Written in blank verse (a refreshing surprise!), King Charles III is daring and intelligent, not afraid to be subtly mocking in its suggestions. It may be sad to think that the story Bartlett has written felt almost inevitable, and I truly hope that he will be proved wrong when the future does unfold. Nevertheless, it is clear to see why this production has seen such success – with dramatic and stirring visuals and incredibly clever writing, whether you are monarchist or republican you will be left intrigued.