INTERVIEW: Charles III, Theatre Royal, Newcastle, September 28 to October 3

Robert Powell in Charles III

Robert Powell in Charles III

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In the not too distant future Charles will be King.

How will Britain fare under its first King for more than 60 years?

A scene from Charles III

A scene from Charles III

Award-winning play King Charles III takes a look at the country under Charles’ rule.

It played a sell-out run in the West End and proved so popular it’s now on a UK tour, coming to Newcastle at the end of the month, as well as heading to Broadway.

With actor Robert Powell in the titular role, it takes us to a time in the future when the Queen is dead and after a lifetime of waiting, Prince Charles ascends the throne. A future of power. But how to rule?

Mike Bartlett’s play explores the people underneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of our democracy, and the conscience of Britain’s most famous family.

Robert Powell in Charles III

Robert Powell in Charles III

The show has proved so compelling that this year it’s been awarded the Olivier Award, Critics Choice and South Bank Sky Arts Award for Best New Play.

Robert Powell, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth and as series regular Mark Williams in Holby City, says it’s a pleasure to be stepping into the shoes of a man he considers to be a friend.

“We kind of know each other,” he explained. “So I didn’t need to study his mannerisms. I’ve met him more than once. This isn’t an impersonation, but there are elements of Charles in his mannerisms. I’m almost certain he will know I’m appearing in the play, but we don’t know each in the sense of picking up the phone to each other. It’s more a case of him always saying hello at receptions. I do a lot of stuff for the Prince’s Trust, so it’s more of a mutual appreciation.

“But knowing him isn’t what drew me to the role, I looked at it like any other role, I judged it on the quality of the writing.”

A scene from Charles III

A scene from Charles III

The play is from the pen of Mike Bartlett, who previously collaborated with Rupert Goold on Earthquakes in London and Decade.

Robert is quick to point out that they play doesn’t have a political agenda.

“Mike Bartlett is extremely clever and there is something for everybody’s point of view, it’s certainly not one-sided,” he explained.

Whereas a few hundred years ago it would have been a case of “off with their head” had someone written a play that wasn’t wholly deferential towards the monarchy, the Royal Family today divide opinion.

Speaking of his own views, Robert said: “I’m a complete monarchist. Although I intellectually understand republicans, I don’t understand their point of view. My argument is ‘do the Royal Family do any harm?’ – no they don’t. ‘Do they do any good’ – yes they do.

“I think the problem is one of privilege, they are born into their position and people have a problem with that. I’m sure there will be plenty of discussions in the bar about what people think at the play.

“I’ve met the Royal Family, either individually or as a group, and they have nothing but my utmost respect.”

The actor, whose theatre credits also include Singin’ in the Rain, says it’s interesting to examine Charles’ own point of view in the play.

“Charles’ point of view is an interesting one,” he said. “He does everything out of conscience and principle. He hasn’t chosen his position, which is why I don’t understand republicanism. I think if we ever did deconstruct the monarchy, God willing, it will not be for another 1,000 years. Long may it live.”

And he says he’s looking forward to seeing how audiences around the country react to the piece.

“I’m sure there will be regional variations in how the audience react to it and I’m looking forward to finding those out. But it’s not all serious, it’s very funny too, not in a farce way. There’s funny moments, but there’s also a poignancy

“I think to describe this play in Shakespearian terms: it’s like King Lear in his relationship with his children, it’s just sons instead of daughters. It’s like Hamlet in his indecisiveness, in his fear. He wants to be King, but he doesn’t. There’s also a sense of Machiavellianism like that in the Scottish play. It’s got echoes of all the kings from the great tragedies. The play is as good as that.”

•King Charles III is at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday, September 28 to Saturday, October 3. Tickets are available from £14.50. Tickets can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 112121 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk