A Future History Play by Mike Bartlett
On October 10, 2015, King Charles III began previews at the Music Box Theatre. It will officially open on November 1, 2015. This play comes to Broadway after a very successful run in London, where it began at the prestigious Off-West End subsidized theatre the Almeida Theatre, and then transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End for an extended engagement. The play deals with the counterfactual hypothetical situation in which Charles, Prince of Wales, becomes King of England, and is therefore called King Charles III. The play is written in blank verse by Mike Bartlett, for whom this is his Broadway debut, and whose other works include Game, An Intervention, The Right Honourable, The Town, Bull, Chariots of Fire, Earthquakes in London and 13, the latter two of which played at the National Theatre. King Charles III is directed by Rupert Goold, who has previously had two works play on Broadway: Enron in 2010, which was very successful in London but a flop in New York, and the 2008 production of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart. His other works include directing the UK premiere of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, as well as Six Characters in Search of an Author, Oliver!, King Lear, and many more.
The play takes off following the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who in actuality is still alive and has been reigning since 1952. Following this scenario, Charles holds his first weekly audience with the Prime Minister. This is similar to the concept of the recent Broadway play The Audience, which was a major hit both in London and New York and starred Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II. Therefore, this play continues the tradition with the King now taking on this task. The principal matter of discussion with the Prime Minister is a new bill that has already passed both in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, and is now only waiting the royal assent of King Charles. Charles is worried that this would permit too much regulation of the press, allowing the government to interfere and censor news of abuses of power. Then, a new tradition is initiated, wherein the King also holds a weekly audience with the Leader of the Opposition. This politician somewhat agrees with Charles’ concerns, but sees no alternative than for Charles to sign the bill. The dramatic tensions rise when the ghost of Princess Diana appears and tells both Charles and Prince William that they will be the greatest king of all, and when Charles decides to dissolve parliament as tensions rise over the bill.
A Very British Play with the Allure of Politics
As seen by the success of The Audience, there is certainly a market for dramas on Broadway that deal with the inner workings of British politics. However, the difference may lie in the star power of the lead actors. Helen Mirren had already won great renown within the United States for portraying the same role of Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen, for which she won an Academy Award. On the other hand, the man who plays King Charles III in this play is Tim Pigott-Smith, who has only been on Broadway twice before in long ago roles: Larry Slade in The Iceman Cometh in 1999, and Doctor Watson in Sherlock Holmes in 1974. Though he has made quite a name for himself with the United Kingdom, time will tell whether Pigott-Smith holds enough draw amongst the American public so as to make this play a hit.
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