Thought-provoking drama fresh from West End success

Robert Powell, Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden in King Charles III
Robert Powell, Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden in King Charles III

Can a reigning monarch stand by his principles... and survive?

That seems to be the question at the heart of Mike Bartlett’s play, King Charles III, on stage at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.

Now touring the country, en route to Broadway, after sell-out runs at London’s Almeida and Wyndham’s Theatres, the show is in MK until Saturday night.

In a parallel present, the show begins immediately after the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Ready to ascend the throne, Charles finds himself being asked by the Prime Minister to give Royal assent to the passing of a law he detests, to which he objects on principle.

Should he sign and know himself to be a puppet of the state, or stand up for his beliefs and risk the future of the monarchy?

It’s an interesting dilemma, and for that I enjoyed the play, but judging by the reactions around me, I don’t think it’s for everyone.

Rather alarmingly at first, almost the entire play is written in mock-Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Sometimes it works, showing how perfectly that meter fits the natural rhythm of the English language. But sometimes it just sounds pretentious.

Directed by Rupert Goold, the central characters are, on the whole, very good, particularly Robert Powell as the King, wrestling with his moral dilemma, and Jennifer Bryden as a strong and determined Kate.

Harry, played by Richard Glaves, is protrayed as a gauche, anti-social hoodie - surely an outdated image of the prince in his post-Afghanistan era.

Elements of the staging also left me underwhelmed. The choice Charles makes brings the country to the brink of civil war - supposedly. There are riots in the streets up and down the country, so they say.

But I didn’t really feel it. There were noises off and a bit of symbolism with people in masks stomping about, but for me there was no sense of genuine dread or foreboding.

And because of that, there was no ultimate relief in the eventual resolution.

But the show’s certainly different, and definitly thought provoking. See what you think.

Tickets cost from £17.50 and can be booked at the box office, or call 0844 871 7652 or online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes