EDDIE LEGGATT AND JORDAN FRIEND
From the opening it felt that the writer, Mike Bartlett, was trying to cram every Shakespearean trope into one play: patriarchy, a hollow crown, ghosts, conflicting ideas of marriage, class differences, regal madness, soliloquies in iambic pentameter, the fool. It could have worked, but ended up feeling like Sparknotes bingo.
Based in a slightly alternate universe, Charles III explores the tension between the monarchy and parliament. The Queen has died, and after years of waiting Charles takes the throne. There is a moment, in the middle of the first half of the play, where the audience is engulfed in the potential of the storyline and everything feels that it could work. In a post-Leveson world, media independence is being threatened by Parliament; a bill which essentially removes Freedom of the press has been passed and awaits regal approval which – TENSION – Charles withholds. However, this moment of political tension, promising to deliver a follow up of current affairs drama and intrigue, simply peters out. In the space of half an hour, the play deteriorates into a relatively two-dimensional and entirely predictable love story, capped with the appearance –twice - of Diana’s ghost.
One of the best parts of the play, the least static and most developed, is the demonstration of the relationship between William (Oliver Chris) and Kate (Lydia Wilson). The tension between their drives plays off of their mutual goals and power struggles, and is by far the most believable, impressive and well executed act of characterisation in the play.
All in all, Charles III promises yet fails to deliver. While there are truly engaging moments, the progression of the play feels that it slows to a crawl, leaving the audience with a distinct sense of unfulfilled potential. It could have been amazing, but as the second half fails to develop the plot points set up in in the first, the initial sense of optimistic satisfaction drains away. Ultimately, the good points of the play – Will and Kate, political tension, the impotence of power – are out-weighed by the bad; the unconvincing love story, Shakespearean themes that felt cheap and Diana’s ghost.