BWW REVIEW: KING CHARLES III, Manchester Opera House, March 7 2016
Nearly two years after its Almeida premiere, King Charles III has lost some of its topicalality - but none of its satirical punch as it continues its national tour in Manchester.
Robert Powell is the eponymous monarch, finally finding the throne in reach after waiting many years for his mother to die. But in the tradition of all good Shakespearean plays, his path to the coronation is anything but simple. Political controversy and familial conspiracy stand in the way of the hollow crown.
This exploration of the royal prerogative and limits of a constitutional monarchy could not be more timely, given that news of the Queen's alleged private views on same-sex marriage made it into the papers the morning of the performance.
Writer Mike Bartlett has taken great care to ensure that King Charles III pays homage to the Bard without simply ripping off his histories. But all the important tropes are there - a scheming daughter-in-law, a ghost of a relative, a two-faced political advisor and of course the monologue and iambic Pentameter. It also offers an interesting take on press freedom and the state of Britain in the 21st century.
Powell delivers a superb performance of a troubled king caught between duty and principle - Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden deliver great support as his son and daughter-in-law courting their public popularity in order to save the crown. Giles Taylor is also a delight in the role of double-crossing opposition leader Mr Stevens as is Tim Trealor as the frustrated Labour prime minister.
Tom Scott's almost medieval design plays well against the modern story, keeping play solidly in its Shakespearean roots.
Leveson and press freedom does not feel quite so newsworthy as it did in 2014, and it remains to be seen how much this production will stand the test of time. Also Prince Harry's Pulp-esque subplot as he attempts to live like a common person with a student from St Martin's College still feels a little superfluous - an attempt to bring the masses into the play, which probably isn't needed.
But there is still an audience for this clever comedy, which means the confirmation of a BBC Two adaption comes just at the right time.
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From This Author Adrian Bradley