NB: This begins a series of theater reviews — some a day trip from D.C. in New York and others as far as Chicago. There is so much to see and do — I hope my readers get out there and enjoy!
Broadway’s Music Box Theater is a place of great fondness for me. It was the site of the first play I ever saw, plus countless others that I have loved. Opening nights are exciting: Waiting on line, the crowd filing in, the sound of taxicabs fading to that of an orchestra as it tunes. Unfortunately, the production of King Charles III that officially opened on November 1st, will not join those treasured memories.
The idea of of a futuristic play about the Royal Family seemed so delightfully absurd, I couldn’t wait to see this play and was lucky enough to get in during previews. Most people adore the Royals — perhaps it’s the result of too many Disney Princess stories — but whether following their births and celebrations, or making them the butt of jokes, I think their squabbles and predicaments both fascinating and ridiculous. They are worthy of soap opera fame, yet rarified, dignified, and interesting. With tremendous curiosity, I went to see Mike Bartlett’s Olivier-winning play.
King Charles III should abdicate before audiences rise like a revolutionary mob and demand its execution.
The characters were so insipid, they were worse than two-dimensional, cardboard figures. The actors seem chosen more for their physical similarities to their subjects rather than real talent. Charles is portrayed as a vacillating monarch, unable to shed tears at his mother’s death, who refuses to sign into law a bill he opposes — the one bright spot in the tedious plot. He is manipulated by politicians and his wife, Camila, who is reduced to a flighty idiot, seeking the glory of his office, who scarcely listens to his misgivings.
Kate is portrayed as a woman who oversteps her position and threatens her husband for the benefit of her children. Somehow she doesn’t know that the King is the King as soon as the previous monarch dies. She goes on and on about how he won’t be coronated for three months. Even as Americans we all know the coronation is a formalization, a ceremony, and the office of monarch never goes vacant. (Remember all those movies — the King is dead, long live the King?)
The anti-monarchist sentiment of the play is brought to the forefront as Prince Harry, portrayed as a drunken, boorish, wild-child (never mentioning him as a military officer), becomes enamored of a loud-mouthed girl. She denounces everything he is, prompting him to surrender his title. Once again raising the issue of whether or not Harry is truly Charles’ son is not only hackneyed but cruel.
Add to this the oddest, most annoying ghost of the late Princess Diana, moaning, striking poses, and sauntering up and down the aisles for no apparent reason, and you can see how difficult it is to like even one thing about this play.
The set lacks imagination and consists of a gray stone wall that hints at the interior of a castle. Never mind that Buckingham Palace has plaster walls and gilt finishes, this set design is both boring and lazy.
I was intrigued by the notion that this would be an alternate future play where there wouldn’t be Hitlers, or robots, or scenes of mass destruction. But from the horrid acting, to the over-written dialogue that aims at Shakespearian iambic pentameter and casts poor Kate as another Lady Macbeth, this play is truly a disaster.
Besides Macbeth, there are shades of Hamlet, Henry IV and even Richard III. While anyone who would attempt such a thing would normally be roundly smacked — especially as bad as this play is — the subject matter of the play is so controversial, so popularly anti-monarchist, that critics have been swept away by ephemera instead of calling a dud a dud. The tepid applause of the audience should be the first indication that no amount of highbrow allusion can pull the wool over a New York theater audience’s eyes.