Thursday, October 29, 2015

King Charles III ***

Playwright Mike Bartlett, whose plays “Cock” and “Bull” had successful New York runs, certainly deserves an “A” for audacity. In this ‘future history play,’ now on Broadway, he speculates on what might happen when Queen Elizabeth II finally leaves the scene. His portrayal of the surviving royals is less than flattering, so it is a tribute to British openness that this play could even appear on a London stage, let alone win a bunch of prizes. To up the ante, Bartlett has written the play in blank verse and filled it with allusions to several Shakespeare plays. When the aged Charles (a fine Tim Pigott-Smith) at last becomes king, the first thing he does is provoke a crisis by his principled but ill-advised refusal to sign a privacy bill that Parliament has passed because he feels it is too restrictive to the press. Considering the treatment by the press that he had endured over the years, his stand is ironic. During the more satirical first act, we meet all the members of the immediate royal family whose portrayal both supports and subverts our preconceptions, as well as the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The 11 other cast members, all from the West End production, (Anthony Calf, Oliver Chris, Richard Goulding, Nyasia Hatendi, Adam James, Margot Leicester, Miles Richardson, Tom Robertson, Sally Scott, Tafline Steen and Lydia Wilson) are excellent. As the crisis deepens, the second act turns darker and more Lear-like. The splendid production, fluidly directed by Rupert Goold, has a simple but effective set by Tom Scutt with a large carpeted dais surrounded by stone walls with a few doors. There is a band high on the walls that at first looks like it is composed of round stones, but when the lighting changes they are revealed to be the suggestions of faces watching the action. The costumes are mostly black except for the ceremonial outfits worn on occasion by the three male royals. We are also treated to live music by Joyce Pook, played by two musicians in one of the boxes. The play has interesting things to say about the role of royalty in the 21st century and the current state of life in the UK. However, if you are not a devoted Anglophile or an avid follower of the royal family, you may find the evening a bit tedious. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes including intermission.

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