Where was everyone Sunday night? None of the usual A listers showed up at the Music Box Theater for an absolutely brilliant and stunning opening of “King Charles III.” Mets game? Really? You know you’re in trouble when the biggest star in the audience is Mr. Sulu from “Star Trek.”
But who cares? All the action at the Music Box was on stage in Mike Bartlett’s wonderful play — directed by Rupert Goold with aplomb — about England as Queen Elizabeth II finally passes on and Charles takes over. He’s still married to Camilla, William and Kate have the two kids, and Harry is slithering around town.
Charles’s ascension — I don’t want to give too much away– is a disaster that quickly becomes part “King Lear” and part “MacBeth.” There’s a gloss of Shakespeare on everything as “King Charles III” is a dramedy that is so clever you can’t believe Bartlett has taken all those cartoon characters– all of them except Phillip, who has already died– and turned them into grand figures.
Tim Pigott Smith had better win a lot of awards for playing Charles. A Shakespeare vet and highly regarded English stage actor, Pigott Smith gives the best performance of this season and many seasons. Charles is not a stooge, and no dummy. But he’s waited so long to become King, he’s got to make it mean something. In short order, he does, although the meaning is lost on some. Bartlett has made a living real person into a fictional person of such depth and sorrow– it’s quite unusual. And also, maybe even more fascinating because I think he’s made the British royal family much deeper than they really are.
Staging, lighting, costumes, all terrific. Music by Jocelyn Pook is super– and kudos to the instrumentalists who play it.
Listen this is a production that when it begins you know the people involved are right on top of it, they know what they’re doing, and you’re in for a great night. Not one off note. Quite unlike the mess at Studio 54 last week with “Therese Raquin.” What can you do? Sometimes everything clicks. Run to see “King Charles III.” I can’t wait to see it again.
PS to all the people who said they’d be there and didn’t show– you’re sorry now.