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King Charles III

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

As constitutional crises go, the death of the Queen and subsequent accession of Prince Charles in his mother's wake might well rock the establishment where they are both figureheads. And if the man who would be king breached royal protocol and started tasking charge of matters of state, who knows how things might turn out?

This is the starting point for Mike Bartlett's contemporary history epic, which begins in this UK tour of Rupert Goold's Almeida Theatre production with a solemn candlelit requiem as the cast process into a brick-lined semi-circular crypt that doubles up as the bowels of Buckingham Palace. Here we meet Charles and his tabloid-friendly brood: a dutiful William, a ruthlessly ambitious Kate and a hopelessly hapless Harry, who falls for Jess, a St Martin's art school girl who introduces him to some real common people. Charles, meanwhile, must confront old ghosts even as he squares up to a reactionary government.

Told over five audaciously treasonous acts and penned in faux Shakespearian blank verse, what follows is a very British coup that brings down the old order even as it confirms a new one that pays even more lip service to tradition. Robert Powell makes for a quietly radical Charles, looking by turns statesmanlike and lost as he finds a purpose too late. Beyond his over-riding ridiculousness, Richard Glaves' Harry learns much from Lucy Phelps' Jess, and in many ways it is the women who hold the power. Jennifer Bryden's Kate is particularly driven. Book-ended by Jocelyn Pook's exquisite choral-based score, the ending may look and sound like triumph, but this is actually a play in mourning for kingdoms yet to come.

The Herald, November 18th 2015



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