Thursday, 13 November 2014

Re-review: King Charles III

When it opened at the Almeida in the spring, Mike Bartlett's King Charles III instantly felt like a classic, so Rupert Goold's production transferring to the West End was not only a much-deserved chance for more people to see it, but also gave me an excuse for a repeat visit. For the story of this "Future History Play" and my initial thoughts you can read my original review. To start with the whole of the Almeida cast followed the show to Wyndham's, although prior commitments mean Oliver Chris has now been replaced as Prince William by Rory Fleck Byrne, whose portrayal of the next in line to the throne emphasises even more how much of a pawn he is to the Lady Macbeth-like Kate (Lydia Wilson.) And this recasting also means the balance is now redressed to make Richard Goulding's Harry the hotter prince. Unfortunately this isn't the only cast change at the moment as Tim Pigott-Smith has broken his collarbone, so the title role is being understudied by Miles Richardson, with Tim McMullan taking on Richardson's usual role as royal press secretary James.

Richardson's portrayal of Charles is competent but lacks depth and charisma, meaning something of the heart is missing. It doesn't stop the play or the production from shining but I'd suggest booking for later in the run in the hope that Pigott-Smith will be well enough to bring it back to the heights it can achieve.

And fortunately this is enough of an ensemble piece that there's still plenty to enjoy. Tom Scutt's set design for the transfer has essentially recreated the bare back walls of the Almeida, with its strip of blurry faces constantly watching the characters. There's still a lot of joy to be had in Bartlett's use of language that knowingly plays on Shakespearean tropes without ever falling into parody. I really enjoyed a gag I'd missed first time round, as Camilla (Margot Leicester) comments on the fact that Harry, who's been speaking in prose throughout, has finally joined his family in using blank verse. Still quite an achievement, although one that now shows how powerful Pigott-Smith's contribution usually is.

King Charles III by Mike Bartlett is booking until the 31st of January at Wyndham's Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.


  1. I guess you need at least one stonking lead - I saw Miles Richardson's first performance the day TPS had had his accident and thought he was possibly vocally more Charles than TPS - and entirely competent, but of course the production was further buoyed up by Oliver Chris. Hope this superfine production isn't now limping towards closure.

    1. I don't think it is; it probably doesn't help having already seen TP-S, certainly the majority of the audience who had nothing to compare it to seemed to be totally engrossed. But Richardson is, as you say, competent rather than stonking, and more like the real Charles. He feels more knocked about by events, as opposed to TP-S's Lear/Richard II hybrid, brought down by his own folly.