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King Charles III

Tim Pigott-Smith†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† photos by Joan Marcus

By Michall Jeffers

The evening begins with a beautifully sung requiem. There are candles being carried in a large brick enclosure, and the mood is decidedly solemn. Englandís longest ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has died, and it falls to her son, King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), to take her place. He is frightened, full of doubt, and also eager to fulfill his destiny. But a lifetime in the royal family has taught him the art of never showing his emotions. His wife, Camilla (Margot Leicester), praises him for his composure. But Charlesís equanimity is soon disturbed.† Like Edward VIII, he is immediately King, although his coronation will be in the months to follow. And like his late Great Uncle, he faces a difficult decision that may divide the nation and endanger his investiture.

A bill has been passed in Parliament; it will limit the widespread press abuse of personal privacy. Surely Charles, whose first wife, Diana, was hounded to her death by paparazzi, will have no trouble signing such an act. But Charles will not automatically put pen to paper. Even though his mother acquiesced even when she disagreed, her son will not. Limiting the power of the press will go against a centuries old tradition- wonít it? No one but Camilla seems to understand the dilemma; but when he speaks to his wife, he mentions more than once that he feels alone.

William (Oliver Chris) and Kate (Lydia Wilson)

It is not only Charlesís position thatís in jeopardy. His older son, William (Oliver Chris) must also be concerned about his own situation now that he has taken over the title Prince of Wales. He hesitates to be seen as anything but completely loyal to his King, but Williamís wife Kate (Lydia Wilson) is sharper than he is, and having been born a commoner, she better understands the temperament of the people. William must usurp his father to save the Windsor line- if not for himself, then for his son George.†

Into this time of turmoil, the ghost of Diana (Sally Scott) occasionally flits by. Unfortunately, this is an appearance which takes the audience out of the moment. Everyone is familiar with the late Peopleís Princess; but no effort has been made to make her recognizable in any way. The simple addition of a suitably styled wig would have helped. Why was such a simple step not taken?† There are times the fact that the play is in verse seems a bit strained, particularly in the beginning of the first act. Itís also a bit jarring when characters we already know fill in for members of Parliament. Why is Kate there? Oh wait, thatís not supposed to be she.

The weakest thread involves Prince Harry (Richard Goulding). While believably carrot topped, heís here depicted as being rather chunky and sullen. There is none of the undeniable sex appeal of the Harry the audience has come to know, and the sweetness of personality is missing. The public has forgiven the real Harry many transgressions. But even at the height of his mischief (dressing up as a Nazi, playing nude strip poker in Vegas), heís always seemed the lovable scamp rather than a resentful, brooding younger brother who resents being a Johnny come lately. Itís particularly difficult to understand his instant love for Jess (Tafline Steen), a strong willed art student who doesnít particularly seem attracted to him. Yes, he wants to be free, but to flee a stultifying life with an undemonstrative family for a life with someone who feels no passion for him seems far more foolish than daring.

The fact that this ďfuture history playĒ has been written in verse by Mike Bartlett shows a daring and a rarely found understanding of the sweep and beauty of the English language. Director Rupert Goold has created a production that will very likely be discussed at length both now and well into the future. The staid, rather boring costumes of Tom Scutt are perfect for the characters. But more than anything else, itís the performers who shine. The company is led by Tim Pigott-Smith, who plays Charles with such both compassion, majesty, and befuddlement combined that he becomes a character of truly Shakespearean dimensions. Oliver Chris is a handsome and polished William who could easily win over any crowd, while feeling inner turmoil about his treatment of his father. Lydia Wilson bears a real resemblance to the beautiful and poised ever-smiling Kate Middleton. The fact that the Duchess of Cambridge comes across as more intelligent modern woman than Lady Macbeth is largely due to her personal charm and stage presence.

Psychics and soothsayers predicted at his birth that Charles would never rule England. Here that prophesy would appear to come to light. Who knows what the future will bring; but if itís carried out as well as King Charles III is here presented, the United Kingdom will indeed be in very good hands.

King Charles III, Music Box, 239 W. 45 St., 212-239-6200

Running time: 2 hrs. 35 minutes

Cast: Tim Pigott-Smith (Charles), Anthony Calf (Mr. Stephens), Oliver Chris (William), Richard Goulding (Harry), Adam James (Mr. Evans), Margot Leicester (Camilla), Sally Scott (Sarah/ghost/TV producer), Tafline Steen (Jess), Lydia Wilson (Kate)

Author: Mike Bartlett

Director: Rupert Goold

Scenic & Costume design, Tom Scutt;† Lighting design, Jon Clark; Sound design, Paul Arditti