King Charles III, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Almeida Theatre in association with Birmingham Reportory Theatre
Mike Bartlett (writer), Rupert Goold and Whitney Mosery (directors), Tom Scutt (design), Jocelyn Pook (composer), Jon Clark (lighting), Paul Arditti (sound).
Robert Powell (King Charles III), Penelope Beaumont (Camilla), Jennifer Bryden (Kate), Richard Glaves (Harry), Dominic Jephcott (James), Lucy Phelps (Jess), Ben Righton (William), Giles Taylor (Mr Stephen), Tim Treloar (Mr Evans). (and Ensemble cast)
Running time

On 9th September, 2015, Elizabeth II became our longest reigning monarch reaching 63 years, 216 days surpassing Queen Victoria. Prince Charles, now aged 67, is King in Waiting, the longest-serving heir to the throne.

As a contemporary sequel to such plays as Henry V and Richard III, King Charles III is a daring, richly imagined Shakespearean modern history play set in the near future. The setting is a brick-walled chamber representing Westminster Abbey where a choir sings a requiem at the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen is dead. Long live the king — that’s me,” announces Charles sombrely. “Now I’ll rise to how things have to be.”

The action covers the period between succession and the Coronation. Gathering at Buckingham Palace are his sons, William (now a proud Prince of Wales) and Harry (apparently more wayward than ever); hovering nearby is his beloved, caring Camilla, and glamorous Kate, in a slim-fitting, fashionable black dress.

The first change under Charles is that he will now have a weekly audience with both Mr Evans, the Labour Prime Minister and Mr Stevens, Conservative Leader of the Opposition. As Head of State, he is taking his new role seriously, accepting the right of the Monarch “to be consulted, to encourage, to warn”.

A Parliamentary Privacy Bill to restrict the freedom of the press has been passed by both Houses and now just needs the Royal Assent. King Charles refuses to sign. This has never occurred since 1708.

Robert Powell as Charles perfects a Regal presence and dignity with controlled, confident manner: “Without my voice and spirit, I am dust, ” he explains; his moral conscience has guided his final decision on the matter.

The plot evolves into a thrilling drama amidst the threat of a constitutional crisis, questioning the role of the modern British monarchy and its influential power over the Government.

Written in iambic pentameter blank verse, the rhythmic language creates the voice and tone of historic tradition. In poetic soliliquys, Charles and William reveal private views on their sense of duty, precedence and inherited values passed down from The Queen to maintain the stability of the Monarchy.

Even an ardent republican might be moved by Charles with his passionate speech on how he was born and raised to be King, as has William and now young George.

But there is much humour too, not surprisingly from the family joker, Prince Harry who has met Jess, an art student, who shows him what real life is like, shopping at Sainsbury’s, a drink at Wetherspoons. As Jess tells Kate, “we’ve seen each other for over a week, it is a relationship, unique!.”

This is a Shakespearian comedy, romance and tragedy all in one, complete with a ghostly spectre haunting the Palace, and a power hungry, femme fatale, Lady M Duchess.

King Charles III may be eager to make his mark but he is elderly and tired. Waiting to take over the crown is now a burden. He slumps on his desk, irritable, upset with the strong minded behaviour of his sons; he is a King Lear figure, his family, the world he knows, changed for ever. In a heartfelt, moving performance by Robert Powell, what is revealed more than anything is that Monarch or not, with royal blue blood in his veins, Charles is just a man with natural human emotions.

As a chillingly futuristic drama about the Royal Family, Mike Bartlett has written an eloquent, elegiac and thought-provoking theatrical masterpiece.


Monday 16 - Saturday 21 November, 2015

UK Tour -