I am an unabashed Anglophile who can recite the British line of succession with greater ease than I can list the early US presidents. So I was enormously intrigued by the premise of Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III. Described as “a future history play”, the drama portrays the early days of the rule of the current Prince of Wales. What would it be like for the second-oldest heir in history to ascend to the throne after the world’s longest reigning monarch passes away? What impact would the founder of the enlightened Prince’s Trust have on England’s social issues?
Sadly, Mr. Bartlett squanders this opportunity for a fascinating exploration of what-ifs and instead gets bogged down in a completely unbelievable and already outdated conversation about freedom of the press. Worse, his portrayals of members of the royal family are so cartoonish that I was by turns embarrassed and creeped out (not in a good way).
I was able to take time out from my shuddering to admire some of the performances. As Prince Harry, Olivier Award nominee Richard Goulding is a standout. He gives “the spare” heart, warmth and realistic soul-searching. Tim Pigott-Smith makes a simultaneously dignified and self-doubting King Charles. Lydia Wilson’s conniving and manipulative Kate certainly has all the right gestures and tone. Disappointing is Oliver Chris who, in the pivotal role of William, seems to be trying to deliver all of his lines with his mouth closed.
Much has been made of Bartlett’s writing this piece in blank verse. This device does add an air of the Shakespearean to the proceedings. Jocelyn Pook’s music provided by cellist Maria Jeffers and oboist Christa Robinson also lends a dash of the regal. However, Rupert Goold’s direction is as choreographed as a Rockettes’ kick line. The overall movement was so mechanical that it practically lulled me to sleep.
By the end of the 2 hours and 45 minutes, I found myself wondering why anyone thought this production was a good fit for Broadway. While the British may have a love/hate relationship with their monarchy, the Americans certainly have a love/hate/disinterested one. I cringe at the thought that, absent true knowledge, any audience member would take at all seriously the script’s boring and outlandish speculation.
King Charles III is playing at the gorgeous Music Box Theater through January 31, 2016. For tickets and information, visit http://www.kingcharlesiiibroadway.com.