Review: Charles III, by Mike Bartlett, Almeda Theatre in association with Birmingham Rep Theatre, Theatre Royal, Norwich, until March 19

Robert Powell as Charles Ben Righton as William and Jennifer Bryden as Kate in King Charles III

Robert Powell as Charles Ben Righton as William and Jennifer Bryden as Kate in King Charles III - Credit: Archant

The Queen is dead. Long live the King. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Queen’s death with Prince Charles set to ascend to the throne, Mike Bartlett’s award-winning play is the closest we are likely to get to experiencing what it must have been like to come face to face with a newly written Shakespeare play.

Robert Powell as Charles in King Charles III

Robert Powell as Charles in King Charles III - Credit: Archant

Written in blank verse and staged by Rupert Goold using many Shakespearean conventions, it comes across as a modern play with strong Shakespearean overtones. The play may contain echoes of Macbeth and Hamlet but the references are clearly modern with Charles making reference to his Spitting Image puppet and the importance of press freedom.

Robert Powell takes on the huge role of Charles – who is rarely off-stage – and is assailed on all sides by family, courtiers, politicians, press advisors and the ghost of his former wife.

Powell, along with Penelope Beaumont as Camilla, Ben Righton as William, Jennifer Bryden as Catherine and Richard Glaves as Harry all deserve credit for capturing the spirit of their real-life counterparts without resorting to impersonation.

The beauty of the play is that there are no heroes or villains just various people trying to do the right thing but coming at a constitutional crisis from a variety of different directions.

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In the openning days of Charles’ reign, he decides to make a stand. He wants to make a difference and refuses to sign a bill that he disagrees with. This brings the nation to a halt and creates a constitutional and political controversy which threatens to change the nature of Britain.

Mike Bartlett’s ace card is to create a play with a dazzling array of opinions and present them in such a way that the audience agrees with the last person who spoke.

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Rupert Goold keeps the action moving along at a fast-pace. The setting and the subject matter are never treated as a gimmick, instead it presents a thoughtful look at our future and prompts a wide-ranging discussion about the nature of monarchy and what makes us British.

A hugely enjoyable new play in which the language is modern but the presentation celebrates the timeless nature of classic Shakespearean theatre. Brilliant.

Andrew Clarke

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