Review: King Charles III @ Lyceum Theatre

Since a pesky thing called democracy got in the way, the constitutional powers of the British monarchy have been curtailed somewhat, rendering most roles performed by the Queen of England – the passing of legislation, for example – as merely symbolic acts executed at the wish of an elected government.

But say the ever-apolitical Queen Elizabeth II (who is no spring chicken) was to depart these mortal realms tomorrow, and the crown consequently passed down to Prince Charles, a figure who historically has been much more outspoken in views on state matters than his dear mum. How would an elected government deal with a monarch who decided to exercise royal prerogative powers to pursue a personal agenda? This is the question posed by Mike Bartlett in his multi award-winning play.

The answer, as you may imagine, is not well at all; and Charles’ refusal to sign a bill limiting the freedom of the press – somewhat ironic considering his family’s dark history with the tabloids – plunges the country into constitutional crisis and onto the brink of civil war. The Prince of Wales, yet to be officially crowned, becomes embroiled in political games between the opposing parties and his overstepping of the line brings protestors to the gates of Buckingham Palace as the army and police desperately attempt to keep peace.

Charles, played brilliantly by Robert Powell, is infuriatingly stubborn as he obsesses with the notion of being a ruler holding genuine influence (“Without my voice and spirit, I am dust.”); while Will and Kate, representing the voice of reason and stability, desperately seek a way to restore a happy medium between monarchy and state. Prince Harry, on the other hand, questions his wishes to remain as a royal altogether after embarking on an eye-opening and often hilarious love tryst with a republican girl who awakens in him a lust for the ways of the common people – “We went to Sainsbury’s! I had a scotch egg!” he cries at one point.

Entertaining, witty and genuinely disturbing at times, King Charles III throws up all manners of themes for audiences to ponder on long after the curtain has closed – most pressingly our relationship with the monarchy, its place in modern Britain and what we risk in the name of tradition.

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