KING CHARLES III

Arts Club, Stanley Theatre, until November 19th, 2017 

My Two Pence

                                         

 

By Liz Gloucester

 

The notion behind Mike Bartlett's Charles III is intriguing – what will happen when Britain's longest serving monarch dies? How will the nation and the world react to the transfer of power? To us thus far the Prince of Wales has been a book on a shelf, a king in waiting his whole life – and we, his audience, are only interested in its slim spine. Now we have the opportunity to take this book down, examine it and see whether any worth lies within its pages. 

 

The main problem I have with the Arts Club production of Charles III is they appear to have continued to examine just the book cover. We are presented with an accurate portrayal of Charles by Ted Cole; the Charles we see in the media, or at a garden party or at the opening of a new hospital for almost three hours and as a result it is unbelievably dull. The acting choices for all the royal figures imitate this sentiment. We see very familiar characters unchanged by the huis clos we find them in. All pomp and circumstance with no substance - There are no risks and no attempt to fill these characters out.  

 

Cole’s performance as the titular tragic hero was entirely played on one level; There seemed to be little exploration of anything other than self-pity. His text dragged so much during Act One I almost fell asleep. The royal he is portraying may have on occasion the onscreen charisma of a goldfish but he is a passionate speaker for the environment as well as a huge patron of charities and the Arts. I wish that he had been given the opportunity to explore more interesting choices or that he had been given more inspiring direction.

 

Sometimes strong acting choices transcend and mask flawed accents. When all about you are losing theirs at least Simon Webb can keep his head. As the only three-dimensional character throughout I found Webb's portrayal of the prime minister very watchable and charmingly Corbyn-esque. His delivery of lines was both rhythmic and natural - a concept few of the other performers seemed to grasp. 

 

The play is written in blank verse and therefore intends some Shakespearean mannerism in performance. We see conceits throughout; soul searching, ambitions throbbing, drunken louts and even a tragic ghost. While Lauren Bowler certainly looked the part as angelic Diana; her presence was far from the ‘terribly upsetting and agonising’ apparition that made Tim Piggott-Smith's stomach turn when he played Charles III on the West End[1]. The substance of it all seemed a little sloppy and heavy handed with unwise sound effects.

 

The break-away star from Charles III is most definitely costumier Christopher David Gauthier. The pieces were exquisite and very affective. I found Kate (Katherine Gauthier) and Camilla (Gwynyth Walsh) particularly striking and fairly indistinguishable from the real McCoy. These two also gave pretty pleasing moments of performance. Bartlett has set up a vitriolic Lady M style monologue for Kate showing the fierce ambition for the crown to be atop hers and her husband’s heads sooner rather than later and Gauthier found good balance in her two-faced fashionista. Walsh carried herself very appropriately - as though she might be wearing a riding helmet and jodhpurs under her fancy hat and frock.  

 

Most people forget the sub-plots of Shakespeare; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, Silvius and Phoebe lie depressed in a forest and similarly I will not remember Harry and Jess. There was no palpable chemistry between Agnes Tong and Charlie Gallant in the first Act. I saw no reason why he would wish to run off with her neither was there much incentive for her to risk defamation for him.

 

This is not a bad production; it just bothers me that a professional theatre company falls short of my expectation. My final niggling point is this: please visit London and introduce me to an Evening Standard distributer that sounds like she was educated at Roedean[2] – because I don’t think that she exists.

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[1] Jacob Stolworthy - http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/king-charles-iii-princess-diana-ghost-prince-william-harry-tim-pigott-smith-terribly-upsetting-bbc-a7721141.html

[2]Very posh Girls boarding school in Sussex