If Shakespeare was alive in the 21st century, and was thinking of expanding his history plays, he would have come up with King Charles lll, which is currently playing at the Birmingham Rep. Billed as a future history play, this play has all those Shakespearean elements, a central character who loves a good sollilique, ghostly spectres and a cunning, manipulative royal Duchess to rival Lady Macbeth. King Charles lll is a powerful piece of theatre where the lines are blurred between good and bad and right and wrong. It is frankly unmissable.
Veteran actor Robert Powell takes the lead as the new King Charles lll, finally ascending to the throne, and a role he has been in waiting for all his life. He needs to be a king with influence, no mere figurehead, but he is almost immediately thwarted when he tries to change and influence a new bill dedicated to restricting the power of the press. Charles is troubled by the bill which he believes is censorship in the extreme, but the Prime Minister, played with passion and conviction by Tim Treloar, states that the bill is already agreed – Charles just needs to sign. This sets the stage for a battle royal of which there can be only one outcome.
Robert Powell is frankly amazing. His portrayal of Charles moves the character away from the caricature that it could easily have been, and instead instills the ‘King’ with a sense of pathos. You genuinely feel that this is a man of principle – however misplaced. When he says the key line “Without my voice and spirit, I am dust” you cannot fail to be moved, and as the voice and spirit is diminished, Powell exudes exhaustion and despair as he searches his historical archives for answers.
The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with the beautiful Jennifer Bryden a standout as Kate. Charming and friendly on her initial appearance, she becomes more ambitious, manipulative and cunning as the play goes on. Jennifer has the Kate mannerisms to a tee – the hair twisting is almost uncanny, and she exudes a regal charm that belies the steely determination that lies beneath the glamorous exterior.
King Charles lll is a fascinating ‘what if’ of events of the near future and is highly recommended, whether you’re a monarchist, republican or frankly lie in the couldn’t care less catagory. Catch it before it moves to Broadway.
King Charles III
By Mike Bartlett
The HOUSE at The REP
4 to 19 September 2015
Click here for ticket information.