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King Charles III

Yesterday afternoon I got myself a standby ticket to this week’s play at Malvern Theatres – King Charles III by Mike Bartlett. The performance was nearly sold out – I only managed to get a seat in row Q, much further back than usual. Normally the Saturday matinee performances are not much more than half full and I can get easily a last-minute seat in the first 10 rows of the stalls. It soon became apparent why it was so busy – the play was absolutely superb, one of the best performances I’ve watched for ages.

It was billed as a “Future History Play”, set in the very near future, and based very firmly on the structure of a Shakespearean play. It was written in iambic pentameters, and had references to King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard II and Henry V. At least, those were the ones that I spotted – and Shakespeare is hardly my favourite subject, so there may well have been others that I missed. If asked, I would have said that the world has more than enough Shakespearean tragedies and history plays and didn’t need another one. But actually, this one worked very well, the plot was gripping, and the actors all coped extremely well with speaking in blank verse.

Robert Powell was excellent as King Charles III, who in the immediate aftermath of the Queen’s death is plunged into a constitutional crisis when he is presented with a Privacy Bill to sign, although he has serious misgivings about its content. He can’t resist meddling in politics, refuses to give Royal Assent, and then watches horrified as events spiral out of control, leading to civil unrest, and tanks parked on the lawn of Buckingham Palace.

The Kate character came across as something of a Lady Macbeth, highly ambitious for her husband and son, and manipulating Willam into an act very close to regicide. Meanwhile, comic relief was supplied by Harry, who fell in love with a completely unsuitable art student, and went with her on midnight shopping trips to an all-night Sainsburys. There were also strong performances from a republican-minded hard-left Labour prime minister (though surely the playwright can’t have predicted the rise of Jeremy Corbyn?!) and a thoroughly slimy, self-serving Conservative Leader of the Opposition, whose word was absolutely not trustworthy. 

All in all it was a thoroughly interesting, thought-provoking and enjoyable way of spending a Saturday afternoon.