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King Charles III

King Charles III: A Future History Play
Lydia Wilson as Kate and Tim Pigott-Smith as King Charles III in King Charles III.

King Charles III: A Future History Play
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street 
Previews: Oct. 10, 2015 Opening 11/01/15; Ending 01/31/16
Two hours, 40 min. One intermission
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Rupert Goold
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

The Queen is dead.  Her son after waiting so long, is finally England's monarch but now what?  The reticent Charles actually has to rule.  Is he up for it?  Is his family and England itself ready for this tentative monarch?  After a lucrative run on the West End, King Charles III, Mike Bartlett's zesty peek behind royal curtains, tantalizes Broadway audiences in blank verse at the
Music Box Theatre.

This "future history play" weaves the personal and political intrigue of a literate soap opera with theatrical palace intrigue. At the top, all appears familiar enough at the funeral procession of Elizabeth II with the dignified Charles, somber William and Kate and Harry, in attendance before Harry pleads a headache and leaves. Then Charles' job begins.

In an early talk with the Prime Minister, Charles quickly disagrees with a new law restricting the freedom of the press. Already passed by Parliament, it's made clear that the King's wishes are irrelevant but Charles aims to use what power he has and will not back down.  He will meet weekly as usual with the PM but also give the opposition equal time.

The country is grieving and as Parliament is drawn away from the monarch, Charles is left with his own thoughtful instincts, surrounded by family and politicos and various manipulations. Personalities sharpen as British values and traditions clash against personal ambitions and desires. This king is obviously on the throne at the wrong time, with society ready to pounce and criticize, admiring veneer rather than depth. 

Directed by Rupert Goold, the characters come across with sharp layers, intriguing, witty and magnetic. The children-in-waiting, William (Oliver Chris) and Kate evolve as more conniving than we might suspect. Unlike Charles, they understand the current zeitgeist. Watching Lydia Wilson portray Kate, the Diana of this future day, it is obvious that she realizes her position and can deal with it, always remembering her late mother-in-law who was victimized by the press and public. About her own position as future monarch, Kate states, "I ask no less/ Than power to achieve my will in fair/ Exchange for total service to the state".

The spirit of Diana (Sally Scott) comes and goes.  When Charles learns that William is waiting for his own turn at the throne, he tells him, "There’s something in your face I recognize, A stern expression, reckless and so bold, It was Diana where I saw it last, And I had hoped that it had died with her. But here it is, in you, ambition lurks".

Harry (Richard Goulding), is the familiar restless playboy-prince with a saucy girlfriend he meets in a nightclub. Charles' wife, Camilla (Margot Leicester), while loving, now wants some of the perks of the job. Wearing the crown of majesty in this imaginative work, however, it is Tim Pigott-Smith, who stands out as the new monarch. He culls the dignity and determination in his character and polishes the indecisive new king with an admiration for his inner strength and humanity and also his
weakness and flaw.

Tom Scutt's staging is spare and versatile, with brick walls and a central platform. Paul Arditti's sound design accommodates the two musicians performing lush music by Jocelyn Pook, a look and sound creating the literary history of Britain and its monarchy. 

Hip, hip hurrah! Humor adds the punch of fun to Bartlett's play and this audacious ensemble led by Tim Pigott-Smith.
Long live King Charles III.