Ginger Hibiscus | Review of King Charles III at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End by Ginger Hibiscus
Review of King Charles III at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End by Ginger Hibiscus
Review of King Charles III at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End by Ginger Hibiscus
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13 Sep REVIEW: King Charles III at the Wyndham’s Theatre

The Queen is dead. The passing of the monarch is a strange and pivotal moment in the life of any Prince of Wales. In heralding the mourning of the death of a parent, it simultaneously triggers ascent to the throne, and all the pageantry, traditions and responsibilities conferred by that. And whilst this might be stating the obvious, it will be no different for Prince Charles, a Prince that so many of us feel we know so well, having followed his life as though it were a soap opera. We, and 750 million other people watched his marriage, we rejoiced the birth of his children, we passed judgement on his divorce, speculated about death of his ex-wife, noted his remarriage and rolled our eyes at headlines about talking to plants, about modern science lacking soul and about comparisons of Vladimir Putin to Hitler.

Credit: Johan Persson

Credit: Johan Persson

So when the play opens at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, it’s a vaguely familiar scene, with Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith), Princes William and Harry (Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding), Camilla (Margot Leicester) and Kate (Lydia Wilson), all looking, sounding and behaving as we have come to expect. Whilst they come to terms with the death, and work out their revised roles in the royal hierarchy, duty comes a-knocking for the new monarch, King Charles III, who holds his first weekly audience with the Prime Minister (Adam James). But when Charles is asked to provide his, usually ceremonial, assent to a bill for statutory press regulation, he refuses, presenting a deeply political constitutional conundrum.

At the same time, Prince Harry is up to his usual shenanigans, taken to a night club by a group of friends, where he meets and falls for staunch republican and commoner, Jess. A distinctly incongruous match, Jess falls prey to the kind of sex scandal that might have been prevented by the blocked statutory press regulation bill, but of course this revelation leaves Charles unaffected. As murmurs of dissatisfaction rumble across the country, Harry marvels at life of the commoner, and wonders what changes he’d need to make in his life to be able to shop in Sainsbury’s at 2am.

As well as posing interesting questions, Mike Bartlett’s masterpiece of a script brings the monarchy we already know to life on stage, and lets us glimpse behind the curtain into their private lives. Much more than we’d get with a long lens camera and ultra-sensitive microphone, it explores motivations and thought processes, and shows us clearly how having good intentions doesn’t always result in the, “best,” outcome. Written in Shakespeare’s favoured blank verse, the script has a wonderful musicality that makes it mesmerising to listen to, overlaid with cerebral humour and nudging-the-line remarks.

Tim Pigott-Smith is astonishing as Charles, picking up his mannerisms, inflections and vocal timbre perfectly. A King with his own political agenda, he risks inadvertently making the monarchy impotent, before clinging onto the coat tails of anachronistic tradition in an attempt claw his way back. Against this gloriously faithful representation of Charles (no irony intended), Margot Leicester’s Camilla is almost a parody of the Duchess of Cornwall, desperate to be queen, to be noticed and to be valued. Leicester’s strong acting performance aside, I felt Camilla was a little over-simplified in the context of the play, her influence over Charles downplayed significantly.

Next in line to the throne, and another crucial relationship is that between William and Kate, gorgeously convincing from Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson. It is fantastic seeing Kate depicted as a strong and opinionated woman, intelligent and strategic, more so than we’re accustomed to in the public arena. But I can’t help but feel that William seems like a bit of a limp cabbage in comparison, the antithesis of “the greatest king there ever was,” that the ghost of Diana promises him he’ll be. Also slightly strange is the way Jess is presented; Harry’s infatuation with a commoner is a hysterical plot line, but Jess seems to embody every single anti-monarchy stereotype available. It’s almost like We Will Rock You’s now unemployed Scaramouche wandered down the road and leapt on stage at the Wyndham’s, having torn out her fluorescent highlights on the way. That is certainly not to detract from Tafline Steen’s performance; to the contrary, it’s one of the strongest of the company, but I just found something a little jarring about her character.

King Charles III boasts moments of incredibly beautiful music, moments of exceptionally stunning visuals (notably in the first scene of act II), and moments of wickedly funny humour. But it isn’t quite funny enough, or visual enough, and doesn’t have quite enough of that music to stretch it to a run time of not far off 3 hours. That said, I can’t think of any other play that is so steeped in politics whilst remaining largely apolitical, that presents such a familiar and plausible version of the future, and that concludes with all the pomp, pageantry and finery of a royal coronation. And if there were another, it could never be done in such an elegantly beautiful way as in King Charles III.

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Star Rating

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