Review: King Charles III at the Marlowe Theatre
Banrika Gill reviews the Oliver Award winning play, King Charles III, as it arrived at the Marlowe Theatre last week for a brief stop on its national tour.
The show begins. Cloaked individuals take to the stage, leading with candles and singing in harmony. The play mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and follows King Charles’ ascent to the throne. Written by Mike Bartlett, King Charles III is a quasi-Shakespearean verse drama that was instantly commissioned by the director Rupert Goold. It’s a play that continues to evolve and grow as Bartlett tries to incorporate real-life events from the royal and political environment into the script. After an initial sold-out showing at the Almeida Theatre, followed up by a critically acclaimed run in the West End, this Olivier Award winning play is currently on tour around the UK.
The performance puts soon-to-be King Charles, played by Robert Powell, right in the forefront of politics as he begins to take over his duty and responsibility as the head of the country. The audience see Charles take an active interest in the the government by meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Evens; leader of Labour party, and opposition leader, Mr. Stevens; leader of the Conservative party. Throughout the play Mr Stevens is portrayed as a stereotypical two-faced politician, whilst Mr Evens from the Labour party is shown as an honest, straight talking pragmatist. It’s clear that there was a bias in the performance against both the Conservatives and the Monarch.
Furthermore, there were fairly obvious parallels to Macbeth, as Charles and William were both on separate occasions visited by the ghost of Princess Diana, informing them that they were going to be “the greatest king to ever live”. This caused some confusion between the characters; while it made Charles more determined to make a change in the monarchy’s power in politics, William saw it as an encouragement to ensure that the royal family continued with him as leader, with no regard to Charles. The role of William’s wife Kate, played by Jennifer Bryden, mirrored the planning and manipulative drive Lady Macbeth is famous for. Kate’s soliloquy was one of the most powerful in the play as she displayed a clear understanding of the various relationships and her supposed role in politics, yet presented a determination and ambition for more without disclosing all of her plans.
I did feel at times, however, that the play seemed quite predictable as it often appeared to be a retelling of Macbeth in more modern terms. It amusingly borrowed ideas about the characters, such as Charles’ and Harry’s, from their questionable behaviour in the public eye, which served as decent fodder for humour at the royal family’s expensive. Unfortunately, while there was very good comic timing in the script and by the characters throughout the play, it was often lost due to a lack of projection by certain actors. At times the actors tended to mumble or trail off at the end of sentences which would make it difficult to follow the conversation. Thus, it often resulted in a lack of understanding of the political references and jokes that were made.
Despite this, King Charles III managed to evoke a certain sense of care and sympathy towards the monarchy, and the chains that bind their hands as they continuously battle to do what is right, instead of what will make them great. This is a thought provoking performance perfect for political enthusiasts and avid newsreaders alike.
Want to find out more? Click to watch the official trailer, and check out their website for more information about where you can see them later on their tour.