Over the course of last week, Speech Hall was abuzz with the senior play; the culmination of months of hard work in the form of Mike Bartlett’s satirical “what-if” future history play, King Charles III. Directed by Dominique Chapman, it was a play in equal parts personal and political, as it navigates the stormy waters following the imagined death of Queen Elizabeth II. Her death leaves Charles as acting monarch, and perhaps unsurprisingly, chaos ensues.
As the eponymous King Charles, Tobias E. is our tragic hero, and his towering performance will undoubtedly be long remembered. His tumultuous downfall is slow and drawn out, as he battles conscience and long-standing traditions of duty. Tobias makes Charles his own, and he was, without question, a star in this performance. The electricity between him and Luke A. as Will in their final spoken battle was tangible, and they were the perfect foils for one another. The same chemistry is evident between Tobias and Zachary P., who plays Prime Minister Evans. Zachary’s portrayal of the Prime Minister is in distinct opposition to Tobias’ Charles, and the two played off of one another expertly throughout the play.
Dominique’s bold decision to set the show in the round allows for the sparse, yet dynamic set to come alive. The square, tiered dais became reminiscent of a boxing ring at times; monarchy in one corner, and democracy in the other, highlighted at one point by Charles and the Prime Minister making their statements to the press from opposing ends. Ensemble moments constituted some of the most compelling in the show, working exceptionally well in this setting, and harmonious movement and sharp motifs made for an effective force to drive the plot. There was something haunting about how the ensembles movements at the beginning- at the funeral of the Queen- were almost mirrored in the final moments, at the vastly different event of Will and Kate’s coronation. In these moments, the supporting cast truly shine.
In between dystopian snapshots of dissolved parliaments and familial betrayal, the play allows for fleeting moments of wonderful comedy, that become increasingly few and far between as the play hurtles towards its conclusion. Lex E’s portrayals of both Cootsy and Clive were expertly delivered, providing a great deal of the comic relief with his partner in crime, Theo V’s Spencer. An amusing encounter, in which Prince Harry’s yearnings for escape lead him to a kebab vendor, springs both Jesse D. and Joshua R. into comedy roles in which they appear perfectly at ease.
Maddy P’s defiance as the Duchess of Cambridge is the fuel the second act feeds off of, propelling the story to its striking conclusion. She is the perfect feminist heroine for the play, a wonderful, nuanced force of nature in the face of the men who try to hold her back, bringing a wonderful edge to the demure and subtle Princess over which the public and press laud. Similar praise must go to Aimee W’s portrayal of Miss Stevens, a razor sharp, witty MP. Bella H. too, who’s portrayal of Camilla is arresting, particularly from such a young actress. As she simmers and shakes in the final moments, the whimsical, soft, almost comic Camilla of the opening scenes is forgotten completely. In reality, the female royals have largely suffered in silence. Lucy W’s portrayal of Jess takes on a slightly prophetic quality when considering the recent plight of Meghan Markle, and Diana’s fate is made all the more haunting by Poppy E’s moving representation of her.
Behind these great actors are, of course, a talented production and design team, led by Hamish Ellis and Emma Wallis, that cannot go unmentioned. The set changes were swift and seamless, the props were immaculate (as was Cory S’s costume) and the lighting and sound were in perfect symphony with the narrative.
This ‘neo-Shakespearean’ tragedy, written entirely in blank verse, would have certainly presented a challenge to the students. The swinging rhythms of iambic pentameter are not easy to master, and the incredibly talented cast tackled it with apparent ease. The dialogue was clear and engaging, and for this the actors should be applauded. In any case, I am certain that the magic of King Charles III will linger for a while…