Sunday, 4 January 2015

King Charles III, Wyndham's Theatre

Having had a lucky run at the Almeida last year (all three of the shows I saw were wonderful) I had long wanted to see one of those that 'got away'. King Charles III had been touted as one of the new plays of the year and I was pleased to have the opportunity to see Rupert Goold's production at Wyndham's Theatre in the West End.

The play covers the fictional period immediately following the current Queen's death as the titular King assumes his position in typically single-minded fashion. Unhappy with a bill being pushed through Parliament to curtail press freedom he refuses to grant his royal assent and precipitates a modern constitutional crisis. The conceit is a neat one. Not only does it recall the recent history not only of phone hacking but also of the high watermark of press intrusion that may have contributed to his first wife's demise, it also makes uncomfortable demands on those of us in the audience 'enjoying' this tepidly comic satire about the current monarchy: the character defending our right to see a work lampooning him, his family and position.

With the cast dressed almost entirely in mourning shades of grey and black and the single set recalling a medieval crypt or the catacombs of a building such as the Houses of Parliament (more often associated with the constitutional threat of, say, Guy Fawkes), the use of Latin chanting to bookend acts is appropriate, if a little perfunctory. The acting is excellent however, with a cast selected to bear at least resemblance to the current figures in question. Tim Pigott-Smith is not a latter-day King George (III) although his naivité is comparable to the Madness of Alan Bennett's play. Most impressive is the élan with which the production moves from comedy to the precipitous edge of real civil disintegration, not an alien possibility in these times of deep mistrust of the political elite.