Written by: Mike Barlett
Directed by: Rupert Goold
Music Box Theatre
Production website 💉💉💉💉💉 out of 5.
“What If” guides this “future history” play. What if the Queen of England was dead? What if Charles was REALLY up next in line to be king? What if he decided to be more than a figurehead and assert powers that the royal family has not exerted in generations? What if he didn’t sign a bill recently passed by the House of Commons? What if he pulled out dusty old books of royal precedent and found that he could shut down parliament and demand a re-election. What if the King of England just said, “NO.”
Having won the Olivier award for the Best New Play and being fortunate enough to see its very first preview in New York, I was memorized. I guess that we had taken it as a given that Charles would never get the throne – – that it was a fait-accompli that his son would take over for his grandmother when the unfortunate arose. What kind of king would Charles be? Although seemingly passive and hidden behind his mother’s skirts, Charles comes off as a rather castrated leader – -dresses up nice for formal functions but lacking the strength and even interest in the throne. What if he stepped forward?
Sitting in the audience, I was recalling my last experience with the throne – – Wolf Hall. Here Henry VIII was ready to set you on fire or chop off your head if you even looked at him crossly. Now, decades later the Prime Minister can simply look across the table from his Majesty and say, “No.” The times they are a changin’.
The second major debate of the play is the necessity to even have a royal family in the first place. In a country having financial problems, is this the best way to spend the precious resources? Do the gates of Buckingham Palace really need to be guarded? And what could would a “bearskin” (hat worn by the gate guards) do to detour terrorists. They are more likely to intimidate tourists then terrorists.
This play was beautiful and magical – – it was as if I was watching the modern royal family transposed over King Lear. Everyone now and then the language would veer to the polished poetic prose of Shakespeare (a language that I guess we all expect from the royal family as they sit around eating Doritos and watching TV at night). Just when they were discussing the difficulty of the royal family to get away to Burger King, rich, beautiful prose would wash over their language – – a beautiful merging of today and a rich imagined yesterday.
As the play winds to and end and as Prince Harry, Kate and Prince William begin to swoon around their aging, ranting, lost father on the day of the coronation, one can only think of Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril swooning around a similar aging and failing King Lear.
English pomp and circumstance, English future history, intrigue, an exploration of ancient traditions and a super kick-ass coronation dress for Kate with a train that literally ran the entire length of the aisles in the Music Box Theatre. Divine!