Charles

Robert Powell as King Charles III set to clash with the Commons and constitution

King Charles III

Malvern Theatres

****

KING CHARLES III has a remarkable echo of current affairs at this time after the rejection by the House of Lords last week of the government’s fiscal bill to eliminate tax credits provoked a constitutional debate, if not crisis.

It is generally regarded as unconstitutional for the Upper House to reject fiscal bills approved by the house of elected representatives, the Commons. Similarly in this play the decision of King Charles III not to add his signature to the government’s Bill on Press freedom to allow it to pass into law provokes an even more serious confrontation.

Entering the theatre one is confronted by a semi-circular brick wall that has the appearance of an ancient underground vault or dungeon, revealing when lit a strip of indistinct faces peering out like a mass of the common people.

Silently we see the cast enter with candles, then they intone a Requiem for the deceased Queen Elizabeth and Charles is thrust into the role of King late in his life.

The scenario is one imagined to take place in the next few years or so in the UK. The real Prince Charles, as we know, is strongly concerned about a number of social, environmental and political issues, and when his character in the play, King Charles, is asked to put his signature to a Bill at the end of the parliamentary process, he refuses to do so.

Other members of the Royal family are depicted, sometimes in a distinctly caricatured form: Prince Harry, as the playboy prince chasing his ‘Sloanish fluff’; William and Kate, whose two childrewilliam and katen are referred to but not seen on stage; the tall and rather starchy Camilla who is delighted that her husband has got the throne at last.

The plot is not strong but develops along the lines of some current public debate about whether the crown should skip a generation. A number of contemporary issues are alluded to as well as the issues surrounding the Monarchy: for example the Oxbridge bias in the top echelons of the professions, and the paring down of the state and its institutions, the press and its freedom.

Ben Righton as William and Jennifer Bryden as Kate

The language is intentionally somewhat Shakespearean: there are rhyming couplets, archaic and stilted expressions to the modern ear: ‘What is it, husband, that troubles you?’; ‘ope thine eye’; the inversions of noun and epithet. Such devices contribute to the sense of the distance of these characters from the ordinary people, as does the raised dais in the centre of the set.

The ghostly appearance of Diana adds another dimension and added a Shakespearean feel to some of the scenes with echoes from Hamlet and Macbeth in particular. But the effect was not totally convincing.

The depiction of the characters is lightly satirical but not vicious. Kate in this depiction becomes quite manipulative and forceful; Harry ultimately ungenerous to the ‘fluff’; the members of the royal household staff typically traditional, cold and conservative. Charles is principled but assertive but ultimately committed to the wellbeing of the country.

None of the characters become particularly endearing to us as an audience. They all seem remote, elevated and distanced by the language, their characterisations, by the design of the set, so the focus is heavily on the debates about constitutional matters so there are times when the play is overly wordy.

The production however is excellent. Visually the set and the lighting is varied, intriguing and attractive. The set conveyed the impression that these characters were to an extent imprisoned in their world as well as distanced from us. The choral singing that opens the play and closes the acts is very effective. Some of the cast were more deliberate in trying to impersonate their royal character; Robert Powell did not, on the other hand, make any particular attempt to take off the mannerisms of the Prince of Wales. However his presentation of the central character is beautifully controlled and thoughtful.

Ultimately Charles III is a lightly speculative and entertaining piece rather than a strongly political one. It is thought-provoking and punctuated with some elements of comedy. It was great to see a very full auditorium; they clearly enjoyed the play. Let’s hope the houses continue to be full throughout the run. To 07-11-15

Tim Crow

02-11-15 

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