Susan Granger’s review of “King Charles III” (Music Box Theatre: November, 2015)
“Game of Thrones” has moved from the Middle Ages into the House of Windsor via Mike Bartlett’s audacious, satirically provocative “future history” drama, set just after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Told in Shakespearean blank verse with occasional rhyming couplets, the politically potent story revolves around the refusal by King Charles (Tim Piggott-Smith) in the weeks before his Coronation to sign Parliament’s new privacy bill that would restrict freedom of the press.
The more the Prime Minister (Adam James) presses, the more adamantly the King asserts that an unrestricted press is “the way a just society should work” – which is curious, given his previous phone-hacking angst and scandalous affair with conniving Camilla (Margot Leicester). Despite having waited in the wings for most of his life, Charles’s highly principled conscience prevails, as he expresses fear that censorship will lead to governmental corruption.
When the ghost of demure Princess Diana (Sally Scott) visits him, she flirtatiously proclaims in a whispery voice that he will be “the greatest King.” Not surprisingly, she voices the same assurance to her elder son, Prince William (Oliver Chris), whose fashionable, now emboldened, wife Kate (Lydia Wilson), the Duchess of Cambridge, turns out to be a manipulative, 21st century Lady Macbeth.
Meanwhile, feckless Prince Harry (Richard Goulding), weary of being “a ginger joke” among his Falstaffian friends, ignites a romantic relationship with socialist art student Jess (Tafline Steen), prompting his desire to reject his Royal heritage to become a commoner.
Eschewing impersonation, Tom Piggott-Smith delivers a subtly nuanced, poignant performance, aided and abetted by a strong ensemble, culminating in a chilling ceremonial climax.
Adroitly directed by Rupert Goold, its moral complexity is treacherously clever – and riveting, beginning with a solemn funeral procession and composer Jocelyn Pook’s Requiem. Designer Tom Scutt’s set consists of a brick-walled chamber with a carpeted dais, evoking Buckingham Palace; his costumes include traditional regalia – with protesters in Guy Fawkes masks.
Winner of London’s prestigious Olivier Award, it’s the most exciting new play on Broadway since “The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time.” In a Limited Engagement through January, 2016, it’s a must see for Anglophiles!