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King Charles III

by on 7 June 2019

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown

King Charles III

by Mike Bartlett

Wild Duck and Barnes Community Players Co-Production at Kitson Hall, Barnes until 8th June

Review by David Marks

When Mike Bartlett’s Modern Shakespearean history opened in 2014 is was nominated for every award going on both sides of the Atlantic and won the Critic’s Circle and South Bank Sky Arts Best New Play Awards. It was subsequently presented as a radio play on BBC Radio 3 in 2015 and the ninety-minute TV version was screened by BBC2 in 2017. These dates are important. The play has only relatively recently been released for general performance and I fear it is past its sell by date already. It was written pre-Brexit, pre-Trump and, probably most importantly pre-Meaghan Markle as a response to the News International phone hacking scandal.


The play is set in the near-future and imagines the political fallout and social unrest likely after the death of HM the Queen when the new King Charles refuses to play the Government’s political game. Needless to say the wider issues that the play tackles are mirrored in the family scenario of the royal household. As well as echoes of several Shakespearean devices to complement the blank verse, King Charles III has a very impressive moment as King Charles II. The play is clever and very ambitious. It is also very long and was made longer by the addition of a guest appearance by a local choir at the beginning of the piece and the many, lengthy scene changes throughout the play.

The production at Kitson Hall is a joint venture between Wild Duck and Barnes Community Players. Like the Curates egg it is “good in parts”. Daniel Wain is a totally believable King Charles, giving us a realistic portrayal of the real man without falling into caricature. Likewise, Richard Scott’s Harry is a delight. The stage came alive every time either of these actors inhabited it. Director Susan Conte has done a fine job in finding a “royal family” with more than a passing resemblance to their real counterparts who can also deliver blank verse and have decent comic timing. The supporting artistes of various politicians, bishops and commoners battle with varying degrees of success with the verse and their characters. Emily O’Mahony’s Prime Minister and Chris Mounsey’s Leader of the Opposition have a particularly difficult time here as they are portraying fictional characters in a world inhabited by household names and faces. They both manage admirably and their individual scenes with King Charles are some of the best in the play.

As to the actual production – much more attention could have been paid to details that are easy to overlook but make such a difference to the verisimilitude and integrity of such a piece. For example – the Prime Minister and Princess Diana would never be seen out without wearing tights or stockings, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge would never have a hemline four inches or so above the knee, and everyone in a ceremonial role in a cathedral would polish their shoes. These are tiny things but they make a real difference when the audience is virtually part of the action. Equally, one more technical rehearsal might have negated the immersive nightclub experience of not being able to hear a word and an errant spotlight that could not make its mind up whether it was on or off.


The director has chosen to present the play in the round and this works well. The cast use all the space and the audience never feel excluded. However, this format works best with little or no set changes and the action, which moved along at a nice pace in individual scenes, was slowed down considerably by the scene changes that added considerably to the running time.

In summary, this production has a lot going for it. A collaboration between companies is always a positive thing and to be brave enough to take on a piece of this magnitude is worthy of praise indeed. A brave choice but I am not sure the right one. In these uncertain times there is something at this that seems a little unsavoury about imagining life after HM Queen.

David Marks
June 2019

Photography by Marc Pearce

From → BCP, Drama, Reviews, Wild Duck

  1. H’Angus the Monkey permalink

    Pretty daft comments about the costumes. If you don’t believe the Duchess of Sussex would wear a skirt check out the many images of her doing just that you can find online!

    • Hello Angus, Many thanks for your note. We do like to have feedback. I think though if you re-read David Mark’s review you will see that he if referring to the Duchess of Cambridge not the Duchess of Sussex. Moreover, he doesn’t say that she does not wear skirts, but that she does not wear mini-skirts. Keep following Mark Aspen Reviews and keep up the feedback. Kindest Keith, Editor for Mark Aspen

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