REVIEW: King Charles III @ The Opera House, Manchester

Robert Powell in King Charles III UK Tour. Credit Richard Hubert Smith.jpgIt was a bold and ambitious project to attempt a modern history play exploring the characters of our current royal family as well as what makes our constitution tick.

There will be those snooty enough to turn their noses up at the audacity of dabbling in Shakespeare’s form and no doubt some will be outraged at this imagining of the shaky transition between the reign of Elizabeth and that of her successor.

But writer, Mike Bartlett has pulled off a remarkable feat of producing a weighty yet accessible play which is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

And Salford-born Robert Powell is excellent as the troubled monarch finding his feet in his new role as he awaits his coronation, wasting no time in hurtling head-long into a constitutional clash with the government.

The play has all the ingredients of a Shakespearean tragedy – a lofty, some might say intransigent, figure set up for a devastating fall, told in verse, with plotting and intrigue and the appearance of a ghost.

The trouble starts when the conscience of the king prevents Charles from giving the royal assent to a bill guaranteeing a statutory right to privacy and a shackling of press freedom. The subsequent stand-off between a parliament determined to exercise its democratic mandate and a king bound by a sense of duty and what is right, leads to a crisis which threatens the future of the monarchy.

But this is not a crusty worthy tome about the British constitution. At the heart of this play is a clash of characters and ideals. It is is about duty, family and betrayal.

And no-one should be put off by the fact the drama is acted out in verse. The form serves to emphasise the weight of history and tradition but in a style which is contemporary and accessible.

These lines are delivered by a very strong cast with a convincing performance by Ben Wrighton as Prince William who is torn between loyalty to his father and a sense of duty to the future of the monarchy.

This is well worth a look.

Dave Toomer

Runs till Saturday March 12



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