King Charles III

Theatre , Fringe
Critics' choice
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(8 user reviews)
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© Johan Persson

Lydia Wilson (Kate) and Tim Pigott-Smith (Charles)

© Johan Persson

Nyasha Hatendi and Tim Pigott-Smith (Charles)

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

© Johan Persson

'King Charles III'

Mike Bartlett's brilliantly audacious new play about what happens when Prince Charles ascends to the throne transfers to the West End.

'King Charles III' returns on a UK tour in 2015. This review is of the show's 2014 West End run.

The royal family is a soap opera that the whole nation loves to tune into – even the Scots. And Mike Bartlett’s audacious new comedy imagines their next episode as if it were Will Shakespeare scripting ‘The Thick of It’.

Elizabeth II is dead, Charles III finally ascends the throne and promptly clashes with a handsome, populist Labour PM (sorry Ed, his name’s Tristram). Parliament is hellbent on restricting the freedom of the press but, in agonies of conscience, Charles Eyoreishly refuses the Royal Assent to Tristram’s law - resulting in constitutional chaos, royal family meltdown and, ultimately, a very British coup.

On one massively enjoyable level, this is a gloriously, victoriously vulgar piece of light entertainment. Director Rupert Goold marshals a faultless cast, whose ability to re-create public characters who are both brilliantly recognisable and startlingly different would make Alison Jackson weep with envy. It’s Westenders: a Buckingham Palace soap opera whose sharply scripted showdowns are gilded by glamour and money, and dignified by influence and power.

Beneath its nosey, speculative veneer it’s also a fantastic example of the freedom of speech that Tim Pigott-Smith’s humane, agonised Charles so ingloriously defends. Royalty – tax-supported by the masses – is uniquely, unelectably personal. And this goes beyond mere lampooning of Harry’s posh twerp chums, or Charles’s unusual gardening habits. Transferring from the Almeida to the West End as Scotland votes on the Union, it has a shrewd grasp of history and a genuinely moral imagination; it magnifies the idiocies of how we, in a constitutional monarchy, live now – and shows what they could lead to. There’s also a core of human sympathy for its royal puppets that satire often lacks.

It’s also the first major play in blank verse that the West End has seen for a very, very long time. Writing iambic pentameter peppered with pop references is a masterstroke: this is a play that looks like the future and sounds like the past; the perfect form to portray the royal family and especially its steely new normcore celebrities Will and Kate. Writing under cover of tradition adds depth to Bartlett’s slick writing and gives him the keys to the castle – after what the Macbeths got up to, it’s easy to get away with Diana’s ghost stalking the battlements or Charles demanding tanks on the lawn.

Rupert Goold, widely touted to run the National or the RSC before he began his golden reign at Islington’s Almeida, has classily directed a state-of-the-nation play – complete with thrillingly sung requiems – that would top the bill at either. It confirms 30-something Bartlett as a mature major writer from whom we can expect much. But you need to see this one now: it’s too hotly topical to last. Ultimately, it’s constrained by the monarchy’s diminishing relevance. It won’t blow the palace sky high. But it’s theatrical dynamite, nonetheless.

Average User Rating

4.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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8 people listening
William w
1 of 1 found helpful

I don't think this play is as ground breaking or that brilliant as others have rated it. The jokes on the Royal family were nothing new that we haven't heard before. They became quite tedious. The live music was quite haunting, which added atmosphere to this production. Not a bad play but not quite the Shakespeare as others will have you believe.



1 of 1 found helpful

Probably one of the best plays you will see . The ending is haunting

Sonja Z
1 of 2 found helpful

Brilliant Acting, strong script, lovely directing and STUNNING MUSIC. Best music in a play for me so far, I only wish they would include more. 2 and a half hours of thought provoking theatre that just made me think that we are not so far from the old Shakespearian times. Earl of Leicester and Buckingham might be replaced by head of Labour and Conservative but the politics and tragedy is still the same. Well done Mr. Bartlett

Maz B
1 of 2 found helpful

Having read various reviews in various resources, I am beginning to wonder if I saw the same play! I found it rather dull and slightly unpleasant. Loosely based on King Lear you predictably know how this will work out. You would be hard pushed to find a pleasant character anywhere, except for Prince Harry and his radical girlfriend. Too long and too dreary.

Eric B

Not as great as the critics would have you believe. Its trying very hard to be on the same level as shakespeare, but doesnt make it there. Heres a list of much better plays, worth your money and time: "Great Britain", "The book of Mormon", Any shakespeare play at the Globe theatre (the best value for money and best entertainment to be had in london)

0 of 1 found helpful

I thought this was going to be a cheesy populist cash-in on all things monarchy, appealing to the tourist dollar more than anything else. How wrong I was. This is a fascinating exposé of the idiosyncrasies, and fragility, of the British constitution played out brilliantly to catastrophic effect. I actually had never really pondered how strange the constitution is, and how much is hangs on the monarch to play ball. The tragedy of Charles is so engrossing - a conscientious and good man, whose idealism, ambition and political naivety lead to his undoing. The script is brilliant, with echoes of Shakespeare's history plays throughout, especially Richard II at the end. It is very approachable as a play, but has great depth in the narrative. A couple of dramatic devices verge on the corny (Diana's ghost), but avoid it just. Tim Piggot-Smith is outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Loft B
0 of 1 found helpful

We had read the reviews and decided it was probably worth seeing. We were wrong. This is a must see! Tim Piggot Smith is a much under employed actor who shines as Charles lll and is ably supported by an excellent cast. Harry is a real treat who shows his true colours. Not only Shakesperean in style but also in dramatic content with all of the essential ingredients of a tale of the eventual fate of a King but also the sly contemporary humour which we may well miss in the earlier Elizabethan dramas. Watch out for the jokes in the tragedy.