The British know how to stage political machinations within the monarchy. Last season there was The Queen with Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth matching wits and going toe to toe with Prime Ministers past and present. In Wolf Hall we witnessed the ascent of Thomas Cromwell, and his ultimate demise, in the court of Henry VIII. Now we have King Charles III, a speculative story that examines the state of affairs if Prince Charles becomes king.
Playwright Mike Bartlett has woven a tale that plays like a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. He has taken the central members of the royal family—Charles, Camilla, William and Kate, and Prince Harry—the Prime Minister and opposition party leader and created a plausible, yet far-fetched, conspiracy that shakes the very foundation of the British monarchy and government. At the center is Charles, who the playwright portrays as a man full of self-doubt, but firm in his principles. It is his moralistic bearing that sets into motion a national crisis with a superb surprise ending. Bartlett brings the characters and thrust of the plot into focus during an enthralling Act I. This sets the stage for the more breathtaking, intrigue-laden Act II.
For King Charles III to be fully realized as a rousing theatrical drama the actor playing the newly anointed king must be electrifying in his portrayal and Tim Pigott-Smith as Charles does just that. This is a tour de force performance that is full of anger, agony, indecision, and personal suffering. The rest of the cast is equally compelling. Margot Leichester, as Camilla, Charles’ spouse, is suitably loyal and protective. Oliver Chris, as Prince William, is upright, carefree and mildly indecisive until called upon to put country before family devotion. Lydia Wilson, as Kate, is, on the surface, the obedient wife, but her shrewdness and calculating scheming sets the show on its unforeseen course. Richard Goulding, as Prince Harry, gives a wonderfully angst ridden performance of a young man dealing with his personal demons as he straddles both the demands of the monarchy and outside world.
Director Rupert Goold skillfully brings Bartlett’s script to scintillating life. He expertly guides the actors through terse encounters, playful junctures, and sober reflections. He bestows special attention on Pigott-Smith, coaxing the performer through a number of mesmerizing, introspective, and captivating monologues. The director deftly maneuvers the cast through the production, building up to the unexpected conclusion.
King Charles III, an absorbing and spellbinding drama, playing through January 31st at the Music Box Theatre.