Review: King Charles III (Wyndhams Theatre) JohnnyFox October 18, 2014 Other Writing, Reviews, Theatre Review King Charles III This is not so much a review, more a collection of Facebook updates. 15.25 Saturday: “I haven’t paid for a theatre ticket in quite a while, so why am I thinking “bugger me, £59.50 for KING CHARLES III” It sparked a lot of lively conversation about the rising price of West End theatre and some mildly narky stuff from friends about how theatre reviewers don’t know they’re born. Having negotiated the complexities of the Delfont Mackintosh website which with its inbuilt prejudice against ‘singles’ continually tried to defeat my snagging of the last decent seat in the Stalls not overhung by the circle or light-polluted by the sound desk, I’m with them. Anyone who works their way through the buying processes, shells out £60 a head, and tubes it to Leicester Square on a weekend night deserves the undying admiration of actors, producers, directors and certainly critics. 19.12 Saturday: “John checked in at Wyndhams Theatre” resisting the temptations of a £4 programme, a £3.50 box of Maltesers or an unimaginably expensive gin and unchilled tonic, I find my seat and have to hang about for later comers positioned nearer the middle of the row who need to shuffle there with a full day’s complement of carriers. At 7.28 I send the check-shirted backpacker (he’s wearing both) round to the other side of the auditorium because there’s no unoccupied seat between me and the centre. An equally disenchanted American and I invent a new regime for theatre and sporting events where you only purchase a seat in a given row, but must fill up from the middle on arrival. Then let’s see who gets the earlier train or has the strongest bladder. 19.31 Saturday: “Oh poo, an understudy” The lights dim, the sweet rustlers settle and a smartly dressed Sonia Friedman strides on to the stage. She has urgent and recent news but still seems to have had time to have her hair done, it looks glorious. Tim Piggot-Smith has had a car accident (collective gasp) but will be all right (collective exhale) although the lead role will now be essayed by (collectively unheard of name) an understudy (collective inward groan). It’s probably an urban myth but I thought if a ‘name above the title’ was unavailable the management offered refund and rebooking if you chose not to stay. Certainly that worked for me once at Drury Lane when Nathan Lane was absent from The Producers, although you’d have thought they might have abandoned the policy about the time Martine McCutcheon’s serial failure to turn up in My Fair Lady could almost have bankrupted Cameron Mackintosh. Friedman’s announcement is so swiftly followed by lights down and up again on the play that there’s no opportunity for debate, and we’re literally a captive audience. The opening item is meant to be Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and I wonder why at the lying in state of the head of the Church of England the cast are chanting the resoundingly Catholic ‘Agnus Dei’. It goes on too long but soon we’re introduced to ‘the family’ centering first on a startlingly convincing William in the form of Oliver Chris, one of my favourite and frequently irreverent actors, but he’s nicely contained here: his sidekick Katherine is sharply drawn in Lydia Wilson’s steel-tensile interpretation, this Kate could be dangerous. You can feel the Americans in the audience relax further when the characters are comfortingly familiar, and their bantering talk of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ is easily understood (author Mike Bartlett wisely decided to kill off the Duke of Edinburgh first, perhaps he didn’t want another Cock on stage) when, attended by Margot Leicester’s rather doughy Camilla, we meet the man. Instantly, arrestingly, everyone straightens a bit in their seats because he looks – astonishingly – like Prince Charles. Significantly moreso than Tim Piggott-Smith in the photos outside the theatre, nearer the right height, the prominent nose and the hair also seem closer to the heir apparent – so can he speak the lines? Because there’s no white slip in the programme, it takes me a moment to pin him, but by the interval I’ve got it. 20.55 Saturday: “Not tonight he doesn’t – SONIA FRIEDMAN makes a rare onstage appearance to announce he’d had a car accident and the understudy’s on …. Tim P-S is OK, but still no refunds” 21.00 Saturday: “Understudy Miles Richardson (son of ‘Francis Urquhart’ Ian) is a powerful actor with plenty of stage credits of his own and really did assume the character entirely. Maybe the ‘him off the telly’ focus shifted to Oliver Chris’s brilliant William but it didn’t detract from the show for me.” Fortunately it, or possibly too much house white, detracted sufficiently from the show for my seat neighbours to leave, so in the unpardonably under-air-conditioned theatre, I had a seat either side for Act 2. It enabled me to relax a bit more into the blank verse of the script which comes and goes as a motif, so its opportunity to get in the way of the plot is lessened. I liked the plot development, where King Charles’ resistance to a new bill to restrict absolute press freedom becomes a constitutional crisis, and whilst it’s unbelievable this string of action should happen within a couple of weeks of the Queen’s demise, it’s thought-provoking and at the same time funny, especially the momentary appearances of the ghost of Diana spouting sensible homilies: although that has to be the most unbelievable thing of all. All political loose ends swiftly tied in the second half, curtain call, standing ovation. So, many congratulations Miles Richardson – you won me over, never faltered for a moment in a part rehearsed only the same afternoon, and the breaking down of Charles’ character, and an almost Lear-like rage, were beautifully measured. I hope this isn’t your only crack at the role.