Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: King Charles III

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: King Charles III

Article excerpt

King Charles III

Wyndham's Theatre, until 31 January 2015

Doctor Scroggy's War

Shakespeare's Globe, in rep until 10 October

Suppose Charles were to reign as a meddlesome, self-pitying, indecisive plonker. It's a thought. It's now a play, too, by Mike Bartlett. In his opening scene he bumps off Lilibet, bungs her in a box and assembles the family at Buck House to discuss 'what next?' Bartlett imagines them as stuck-up divs. William's a self-righteous sourpuss. Kate's a smug minx. Camilla's a hectoring gadfly. Harry's a weepy drunk. Charles is a colossally narcissistic nuisance. They're too dim to understand the constitution so Camilla has to explain that a new reign commences with the death of the previous monarch and not at the coronation. (This is for the benefit of the audience, who are assumed to have the same poultry-level IQ as the Windsors.) The plot cranks into gear when Charles is asked to give royal assent to a bill he dislikes. He refuses. Westminster panics. Charles dissolves Parliament. Anarchists run riot. Abdication fever threatens Britain. And all because Charles has failed to draw any lessons from the biography of Charles I. Or even to have read it. Which seems improbable. As does the skittish impotence of the prime minister, who flaps ineffectually while the head of state smashes the state to smithereens. A real prime minister would buy Charles's co-operation very easily by treating him like a troublesome backbencher and offering to promote his pet projects with a raft of upcoming legislation. But the play's political antennae have been snipped off. Bartlett is after a Shakespearean atmosphere, so he uses stilted iambic pentameters, laced with archaisms. 'What is it, husband, troubles you like this?' He sometimes misuses words, 'aloft' for 'aloof', 'distract' for 'distracted', 'holds' for 'warrants'. Sometimes he makes words up. William, awoken by a scream, says, 'What a strange and ambulous night.' When Charles meets his MPs, he treats them to this grammatical mind-boggler: 'I am not prone to secrecy, but you have drawn that measure in my unsure heart.'

The cast of lookalikes is impressive, especially William (Oliver Chris), and Kate (Lydia Wilson). Richard Goulding's Harry is too squat and pointy-faced. 'I'm a ginger joke, bereft of value,' he wheedles, though his brown quiff could do with a rustier tint. He gets involved in a weird, bitter romance with a beautiful, penniless misery named Jess. The royals fail to see that a toff-chav dalliance could generate excellent publicity for them so they freeze Jess out. …

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