Reviews: Charles III by Mike Bartlett

“King Charles III”: Uneasy May Lie the Head But Tim Pigott-Smith Reigns

By Wilborn Hampton for The Huffington Post, 2 November 2015

Short of discovering a long-lost Shakespeare play, Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III is about as close as one can hope to get to a modern-day Shakespearean drama. Subtitled “a future history play,” Bartlett has crafted a dazzling and gripping piece of theater that needs no apologies to the greatest playwright the English language has produced.

With a superb performance by Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role, surrounded by an all-round stellar cast, and smartly directed by Rupert Goold, King Charles III is a riveting and highly entertaining tale of an imagined power struggle that first brings the British crown in direct conflict with Parliament over one of democracy’s most fundamental freedoms, then devolves into a palace coup that threatens the monarchy itself. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, indeed.

Bows to Shakespeare abound throughout Bartlett’s play. Apart from writing it in blank verse and using a five-act format (though it is played in two), Bartlett draws plausible if improbable parallels between certain members of the present royal family and characters from Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies.

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The Greatness of ‘King Charles III’

By Peter Marks for The Washington Post, 1 November 2015

And you thought the Plantagenets and Tudors had the royal market cornered on theatrics.

Wait until you meet the battling, plotting, fulminating, equivocating Windsors of “King Charles III,” Mike Bartlett’s sublime peek past the reign of Elizabeth II and into the turbulent monarchy her son inherits. Fortified by a sensational central performance by Tim Pigott-Smith as Charles, Bartlett scores one remarkable dramatic coup after another, in an evening so convincingly modeled on Shakespeare that never for a moment does an audience question his choice of having Charles and William and Harry and Kate and Diana converse in iambic pentameter.

That’s right, even the late Princess of Wales materializes here, floating in from the great beyond like some chic, furtive version of Banquo or the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, to unsettle the denizens of Buckingham, Kensington and Windsor palaces. For sure, this evening could easily have been a facile or worshipful gimmick, another cheap excuse to gawk at the royal family. But be assured that “King Charles III,” directed with panache by Rupert Goold, has a serious case to make, about the potential moral and legal relevance of the sovereign in 21st Century Britain. And just as incisively, the London-born play, which had its official Broadway opening Sunday night at the Music Box Theatre, wants us to consider the Windsors, particularly the younger generation, not merely as aristocratic anachronisms, but as stealthy, worldly power players, mindful of their institution’s historic role and determined to preserve it.

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