KING CHARLES III: Mike Bartlett
0121 236 4455
Runs: 2h 50m, one interval, to 19 09 15, then touring
Review: 8 September 2015, Alexander Ray Edser
Strong performances, intriguing debate, weighed down by form.
KING CHARLES III is an intriguing idea. It explores our relationship with the monarchy, mostly in terms of its place within our democratic structures. Writing at the very moment we note Elizabeth II’s silence on things political, playwright (I do with the Rep wouldn’t say ‘writer’) Mike Bartlett imagines a Charles succeeding to the throne and attempting to shift his ceremonial duties into (as he sees it) meaningful ones. So it’s interesting material, and thoughtfully handled.
However, Bartlett has chosen to use blank verse, echoing Shakespeare’s studies of royalty. This should work well and Bartlett is to be commended; the problem is that a debate about a bill on press freedom doesn’t match assassinations, usurpations, battles and invasions of the WS plays. The result is a play with fascinating political debates weighted down by its form. KING CHARLES III can never quite achieve escape velocity. Which is a shame.
Performances are excellent. Robert Powell is superb as Charles. He physically embodies Charles in ways that constantly remind us of the real person without attempting a superficial impression. His Charles is convincing and three-dimensional. Much to be admired is the way he builds this intensely irritating character, a man lost in the modern world, but then undercuts this with moments during which we react with our heart and actually like him.
Richard Glaves is strong as Harry, solid, but never plodding; Jennifer Brydon expertly steers her dangerous course as Kate, a woman who sees all the 21st Century royal fault-lines and with energy and will stirs others into action.
Rupert Goold and Whitney Mosery, who direct, get to the heart of the play, but can’t quite bring it fully into the light. Tom Scutt’s designs are simple and effective, but he’s another designer who can’t seem to move beyond black and occasional grey.
Except in the excellently handled coronation scene nicely encapsulating the arcane and archaic ritual of the monarchy. William’s dismissal of his art-student girl-friend, Jess (two strong performances from Ben Righton and Lucy Phelps) echoing Hal’s rejection of Falstaff is a masterstroke.
Charles: Robert Powell
Camilla: Penelope Beauont
Kate: Jennifer Bryden
Harry: Richard Glaves
James Reiss: Dominic Jephcott
Jess: Lucy Phelps
William: Ben Righton
Mr Stevens: Giles Taylor
Spencer, Nick, Sir Gordon, Archbishop, Paul: Parth Thakerar
Mr Evans: Tim Treloar
Sarah, Ghost, TV Producer: Beatrice Walker
Coolsey, Speaker, Terry, Sir Michael, Roberts: Paul Westwood
Director: Rupert Goold and Whitney Mosery
Designer: Tom Scutt
Composer: Jocelyn Pook
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Musical Director: Belinda Sykes
Casting: Joyce Nettles
Associate Director: Jessica Edwards
Associate Designer: Eleri Lloyd