King Charles III has certainly picked an irresistible theme to explore: the soap opera that is the British Royal Family, and the unanswerable question of what really happens behind those tightly-closed sovereign doors. When no cameras are rolling, how different is the private persona from what we see in public? Could it be that something more manipulative and devious is afoot?
Imagining a time after the death of the current Queen, the play’s plot focuses around the question of how Charles – after waiting so long in the wings – will lead his government and his people. Robert Powell does a stalwart job as the pragmatic, principled King, creating problems for his parliamentary leaders and ultimately for his country. The story’s very much built around him: it appears as if Charles is the only character wrestling with his conscience, while the rest of the cast deliver convincing supporting roles. We witness the leaders of both political parties doing battle, and gain a speculative insight into the marriage of William and Kate that the media might not get to see.
The opening scene is a particular highlight, ranking as one of the most theatrically pleasing moments I have seen on stage for a very long time. There’s candlelit lighting, fitting music, and a haunting Latin requiem sung by the whole ensemble – and set amongst such a minimalistic set, it creates both tension and a foreboding sense of what was to come. The theme continues throughout the play, with the use of music and voice to punctuate the scene changes and shifting moods invariably spot-on. I also appreciated the occasional Shakespearian tone to the dialogue, connecting a bygone royal age with the present-day drama in front of us.
Quite rightly, the characters aren’t played as a direct parody of the royals they represent, an approach which would risk reducing the piece to a life-sized Spitting Image. All the same, Richard Glaves does a truly magnificent job portraying Prince Harry. Not only is there a distinct physical likeness, Glaves captures the tortured Prince's mannerisms and characterisation superbly. The light, almost comedic moments he provides at times are a welcome relief from the heavier content of the play.
One warning though: with so many in-jokes and references to national treasures, I think this is a play for those who hold at least some affection for the House of Windsor. If you're not too familiar with our real-life royals, many of the tongue-in-cheek comments will make little sense. And it’s hard work sometimes, as well: the dialogue can be pretty intense, and I often found myself having to make a deliberate effort to concentrate in case I missed something crucial.
Still, the ultimate theme of family dynamics reigns supreme – pun very much intended – and the key question, “What is power held if never used?”, left plenty of what-if questions in my mind. If you’re interested in the monarchy, then you will surely be interested in this production too, and the twist it puts into in the tale of our country’s possible future.