Reviewed by Katherine Damisch
Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III is, on the whole, a morality play about following your conscience no matter what...even if that means overthrowing the government. It takes place in a hypothetical future in which Queen Elizabeth II passes away and Prince Charles ascends the throne. Even though the Royal Family traditionally does not interfere with the rule of law in the United Kingdom, he refuses to sign into law a controversial bill. The decision ends up tearing apart his family, Parliament, and the country at large.
Robert Bathurst, of Downton Abbey fame, steps into the role of the titular character. He expertly balances the unsure, bookish nature of Charles when in private, while playing the part of the King in the presence of others. The casting in general went for actors that suggest the Royal Family in terms of their bearing and physical appearance, instead of going for true look-alikes. This ended up being an asset rather than a liability, as it allows the production to grab better talent rather than settling for who merely looks like them.
Even though the subject matter seems rather serious, director Gary Griffin played up the humor in each scene to keep the play from becoming too grim. This allowed the audience to bond with the characters and learn to care for them, which is useful in a story where one can see both sides of a complex situation. It makes it that much harder to choose a side, which added depth to the drama. King Charles III is a brilliantly-written piece courtesy of playwright Mike Bartlett, and it is, unfortunately, all too relevant today.