Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

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The Queen is dead. Long live the King! In a future time – perhaps not too far into the future – Charles ascends to the throne and attempts to rescue the monarchy from irrelevance. Rather than acquiesce to the status quo he makes a principled stand, eschewing the cheap political pragmatics of our day.

Playwright Mike Bartlett has taken all of the Shakespearean tropes of monarchy and applied them to the House of Windsor. Surprisingly, what emerges is not the one-dimensional royalty of the tabloids, but more a complex array of flesh-and-blood human beings enmeshed in a cause we all care about.

When Bartlett first conceived of the play it came to him with undeniable clarity. “The form had surely to be Shakespearean. It would need five acts, quite possibly a comic subplot, but most worryingly, the majority of it would have to be in verse.”

It was this last thought that terrified Bartlett. He began playing around with ‘Iambic Pentameter’ – typical of the verse that Shakespeare reserved for his highborn characters. As the work took shape he was able to draw on the rich imagery that monarchy allows, such as quest for crown, deceit and treachery. Diana appears on stage as a ghost and the Duchess of Cambridge is the steely Lady Macbeth type.

Having begun its life at the ‘Belvoir-like’ Almeida Theatre company in inner London, King Charles III has quickly become a West End and Broadway sensation. This version directed by Rupert Goold and featuring legendary British actor Robert Powell is the original by Almeida. Brought to Australia by STC for an exclusive season, it is a taste of the theatre that the world is currently in love with. (GW)

Mar 31–Apr 30, various show times. Sydney Theatre Company, Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. $69-$116. Tickets & info: sydneytheatre.com.au or 02 9250 1777