BWW Reviews: KING CHARLES III, Birmingham Rep, September 9 2015
The Olivier Award-winning production of King Charles III is currently touring the UK off the back of its prior success at the Almeida Theatre and the West End in 2014. There are also imminent measures in place to take the show to Broadway, with previews starting next month at the Music Box Theatre. Referred to as a 'future history' play, the story begins at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, and Charles' acquisition of the highest ranked royal position as king. The text highlights the rights bestowed on members of the Royal family and focuses on King Charles' decision to dissolve Parliament following the News International phone hacking scandal. His immediate family also feature heavily in the play; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge thrust themselves into a more prominent position of authority and Prince Harry's desire to be a commoner and stripped of any further royal duties.
King Charles III could be seen as very controversial, although this is not its intention. Mike Bartlett's play is very presumptuous in its content and is a prospective glimmer into what the future could hold for the monarchy. The way the text is written in blank verse is quite extraordinary and it feels almost Shakespearian in its presentation. It is quite remarkable that even though the show is set ahead of time, the overwhelming tradition and style makes it feel like you are watching a classic from a century gone by. Rupert Goold directs an epic piece of work and with his input into developing the characters, is not creating an impressionist's view of the Royals but a realistic and understated one. Jocelyn Pook's musical composition is spine-tingling and gripping from the beginning of the play. The requiem-style choral work has a heavy impact and is placed perfectly in times of turmoil. Paul Arditti's sound design ensures that this intention is carried through to the audience.
Tom Scutt's stunning brick work and cavernous design is a perfect setting for the play. It has a somewhat cold yet majestic feeling and tallied with Jon Clark's masterful lighting is a triumph. The carpeted raised platform in the centre of the stage could easily resemble the altar end of Westminster Abbey. As there is the element of mourning throughout, the company remain in their black clothing as an almost constant reminder. However rather than darkening the state, Scutt and Clark have been able to utilise this colourlessness to work well with the rest of their design concept.
Robert Powell stars as King Charles III in this touring production and does a brilliant job. The role is an enormous one for an actor of any standard and he seems to grasp the material with both hands and run with it. The love for his family outweighs all, even though this somewhat comes back to bite him at the end of the play. He gives a well-rounded and likeable persona to Charles and is in no way making him out to be the 'Spitting Image' puppet that some view him as. The play is almost completely ensemble driven and the relationships between the characters are paramount. Personal stand out performances come from Jennifer Bryden as Kate with her elegance, poise and eloquent gumption; and from Tim Treloar as the Prime Minister, whose commitment and passion shines through the dialogue no end. The only characterisation that did seem a little false was Richard Glaves as Prince Harry. It is evident that he's meant to be portrayed as slightly different to the rest of his family but unfortunately, it seems a little too forced in places.
A very special piece of writing showcased with creativity and diligence.