In “King Charles III,” the Music Box Theatre goes for minimalism. The stage is dimly lit and the set is sparse of the lavish props the Broadway house has seen in the last few years. Instead, candles flicker around the three walls. As the lights fade, the cast files onstage, all holding candles and all singing the Latin words honoring the deceased. Soon the piece reaches its climax, the candles are extinguished and Tim Pigott-Smith takes center stage, beginning his reign as King Charles III.
Advertised as a future history play, “King Charles III” takes place after current monarch of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, has passed on and her eldest son Charles takes the throne. The play was first staged in London in the Almeida Theatre and later on West End, making this play set close to home. Written in blank verse, the play mimics Shakespearean history, complete with a set of characters that fit with the Bard’s usual archetypes — even a ghost makes an appearance.
What’s so wonderful about this play from the start is that is uses the current British Royal family in place of Shakespeare’s originally written characters: party boy Harry, perfect couple Will and Kate, comedic Camilla and careful, thoughtful Charles. Viewers can relate, love, hate and sympathize with all of the characters being created on stage.
The text is saturated with modernisms and 21st-century technology that fill the first (and parts of the second) act with a wonderful humor. The acting is absolutely superb. Pigott-Smith is breathtaking as Charles III in his command of the stage and the material at hand. He captures that thoughtful nature of Prince Charles that is hidden by tabloids. Not only that, but even when Pigott-Smith stands and speaks among an ensemble, he holds such command and had such handle of the text there is no chance a viewer would misunderstand him. With him stands the equally wonderful cast from the Olivier award-winning West End production.
The story is full of twists and turns that will either make you cringe or make you ridiculously upset at the outcome of the show itself. If Mike Bartlett’s goal was to bring Shakespeare’s tropes and formulas into the 21st century context, he has succeeded.
“King Charles III” is currently playing at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.
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