Wednesday, January 07, 2015

'King Charles III' by Mike Bartlett

7 January 2015

It's a bold move to open a West End play with the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, but Mike Bartlett's 'King Charles III' is a clever and playful piece. Tim Pigott-Smith plays Charles in a modern Shakespearean history play, written entirely in blank verse. At first the Almeida Theatre production, directed by Rupert Goold (which we saw at Wyndham's Theatre in London), feels like a Shakespeare parody with a pantomimic quality to the initial appearances of Camilla, Prince Harry and, particularly, the ghost of Diana. But there is a serious purpose at the heart of Bartlett's play. When the uncrowned King refuses to give royal assent to a bill to restrict press freedom, creating a constitutional crisis, the dilemma of a principled man trying to do the right thing is incredibly believable. William and Kate are approached by the Prime Minister to intervene and the play becomes a political drama reminiscent of 'Number 10' (the BBC Radio 4 drama series by Jonathan Myerson), 'To Play The King' ( part of the House of Cards trilogy by Michael Dobbs) or 'A Very British Coup' (by Chris Mullin). It was also interesting to compare this take on the Shakespearean history play with Rona Munro's 'James I' (reviewed here in August 2014). I really enjoyed Mike Bartlett's last play, 'An Intervention' (reviewed here in April 2014) and his adaptation of 'Medea' (reviewed here in November 2012). 'King Charles III' confirms his status as one of our most interesting contemporary playwrights.

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