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Theatre review: King Charles III at the Almeida

PUBLISHED: 15:58 28 April 2014 | UPDATED: 15:58 28 April 2014

KING CHARLES III by Bartlett,        , Writer - Mike Bartlett, Director -  Rupert Goold, Design - Tom Scutt, Composor - Jocelyn Pook, Lighting - Jon Clark, Almeida Theatre, London, UK, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com

KING CHARLES III by Bartlett, , Writer - Mike Bartlett, Director - Rupert Goold, Design - Tom Scutt, Composor - Jocelyn Pook, Lighting - Jon Clark, Almeida Theatre, London, UK, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com

JOHAN PERSSON

Just a few days before the Almeida swept the board at the Olivier Awards, it opened its latest production, King Charles III – the kind of thought-provoking, creative and controversial piece of theatre that audiences have come to expect from this small but industry-leading venue.

KING CHARLES III by Bartlett,        , Writer - Mike Bartlett, Director -  Rupert Goold, Design - Tom Scutt, Composor - Jocelyn Pook, Lighting - Jon Clark, Almeida Theatre, London, UK, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.comKING CHARLES III by Bartlett, , Writer - Mike Bartlett, Director - Rupert Goold, Design - Tom Scutt, Composor - Jocelyn Pook, Lighting - Jon Clark, Almeida Theatre, London, UK, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com

And there’s little doubt that this new, funny but moving offering - penned by Mike Bartlett and brought to life by the theatre’s ground-breaking artistic director Rupert Goold - is going to pick up a raft of accolades like the plays that have graced the stage before it over the last year.

The show begins with the mournful candle-lit scenes of Queen Elizabeth II’s death and ends at the beginning of a new and totally unexpected era following a period of near civil war which leaves the monarchy fighting to survive.

Crisis

Shortly after his mother’s funeral, it becomes apparent at the Prince of Wales’ first meeting with the Prime Minister as king that he has no intention of following in her footsteps and taking a back seat when it comes to Parliament.

Called on to sign a privacy bill imposing restrictions on the press, King Charles takes a moral stance on traditional press freedoms – despite his own family’s battle against tabloid intrusion – and refuses to give it royal assent, sparking a constitutional crisis.

After feuding with the Prime Minister, he then dissolves Parliament – and there are riots on the streets.

Apart from the Shakespearean-style prose, it’s quite uncanny how each of the characters who portray the inner Royal circle have you thinking you’re a fly on the wall in Buckingham Palace.

Tim Pigott-Smith, who plays Prince Charles, may not that much look like his character, but the facial expressions, tones and manner are the very embodiment of him, much like Camilla played by Margot Leicester.

Lydia Wilson is the double of the Duchess of Cambridge – her frame, looks and poise identical – and she becomes increasingly outspoken when it comes to her husband, who is played to perfection by Oliver Chris.

In contrast, Labour Prime Minister Mr Evans (Adam James) and his political rival Mr Stevens (Nicholas Rowe), are not intended to be like either of the current party leaders.

While at times the play leaves you with a lump in your throat as relationships come under pressure and history resurfaces, it has comedic moments in bounds – largely supplied by Harry, played by Richard Goulding, as he battles with his royal identity and embarks on a fling with an outlandish anarchist played by Tafline Steen.

The play also sails very close to the wind at times – none more so than when the ghost of Diana appears – but it’s this pushing of boundaries that makes this play, and theatre, so unique.

Rating: Five stars


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