King Charles III is Mike Bartlett’s modern-day Shakespearean history play, exploring the British monarchy, politics, democracy, and questioning who really is in charge. With recent political activity, the play fits in perfectly with current issues, especially with its bold and humorous approach.
The play begins with the death of the Queen, making Charles the King of Britain. Straight away he is faced with a political dilemma. Parliament want to pass a law which would prevent the freedom of the press, and they need him to assent. However King Charles disagrees, leading to his family, the government, and his public to turn against him.
Tim Pigott-Smith’s outstanding portrayal of the King brings to the stage an eager yet austere Charles, who struggles with his purely ceremonial power. Prince Harry, performed brilliantly by Richard Goulding, is also an intriguing character. Bartlett presents him as an outsider, finding it difficult to fit in with his family. Even though it’s exciting to watch Harry steer away from his usual surroundings, he is still a prince, and has to make a choice.
Bartlett’s Shakespearean language is interesting to hear mixed with modern and colloquial speech. The play is written in verse, complete with soliloquies and audience asides. He even throws in a ghost who whispers ominous fortunes like the three witches in Macbeth. I loved the references to the different Shakespeare plays, and my favourite has to be the parallels between Lady Macbeth, and Kate Middleton (superbly performed by Lydia Wilson), showing the audience a manipulative and cunning side to the character.
Though an interest in politics and democracy would help the understanding of the play, it’s not necessary to enjoy the performance. The play is thought-provoking and cleverly written, and full of f-bombs and kebab shops, so is guaranteed to make you laugh.