NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, November 1, 2015, 10:00 PM
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
That’s the starting point for Mike Bartlett’s “King Charles III,” a pungent post-Elizabeth II fantasy about nobility and stability. Director Rupert Goold’s tight and zestily acted staging provides the play a royal showcase.
Bartett (“Cock,” “Bull”) is a British writer known for works about intense, messy relationships. He ups the ante in this case, conjuring up modern royals in pop Shakespearean terms. His script slips in and out of blank verse and borrows in large and small ways from “Macbeth,” “Richard II” and “King Lear.”
Relax, you won’t need CliffsNotes; it’s always easy to follow. Even before Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) is crowned, he upends all expectations — and history — by refusing to sign a bill about freedom of the press. He effectively throws a grieving U.K. into chaos and alienates Parliament.
Dramatic stuff — if rather farfetched. The Prince of Wales has never exactly been a maverick, but for the play’s sake he sets off a chain of events and personality revelations.
Prince William (Oliver Chris) and wife Kate (Lydia Wilson) eventually display Machiavellian streaks and ambition. Diana (Sally Scott) appears briefly with prophecies about greatness that stir the pot. Even in death, the People’s Princess rankles the royals. It’s a nice touch by the author, whose take on randy Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) is a bit obvious. Adam James adds heft as the prime minister at odds with Charles.
Pigott-Smith’s vivid star turn anchors the production as the monarch-in-waiting who goes from nervous indecision to majestic might. “King Charles III” is a fantasy, but the actor playing him is the real deal.