Review: Will Smith watches the opening night of King Charles III by Mike Bartlett at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.

It's a little over a year since the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension to the throne of Charles III. With almost 74 years as the heir-apparent, Charles had ample, indeed record, time to consider the type of king he wished to become.

Mike Bartlett’s ‘future history’ play, written a decade ago, explored imagined events that a change in monarch could lead to, provoking contemplation and discussion.

King Charles III, written beautifully in blank verse, is deliberately reminiscent of Shakespeare and gives clever nods to the political history content of several of his works, including King Lear, Richard II and Macbeth.

I attended the opening performance at the Barn having not seen this play before and found it thoroughly compelling.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: King Charles III at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.King Charles III at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. (Image: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures)

King Charles III opened at the Barn Theatre in WGC on Friday, October 13, and runs through until Saturday, October 21.  Tickets are available from the Box Office at

Before talking about the actors, I must first congratulate Yvonne Bartlett and Sarah Haverson for the wonderful costumes. There was occasion to see some of these very close up in the auditorium and the detail was highly impressive.

In the original London and Broadway productions, as well as the BBC TV film version, Tim Piggott-Smith played the title role, receiving tremendous plaudits. In the Barn production, Ian Major, who is also the current chairman, takes on the mantle giving a thoroughly majestic performance.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: King Charles III at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.King Charles III at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. (Image: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures / Barn Theatre)

Ian successfully conveys Charles’ struggle to balance standing up for his beliefs with the traditional, rather ceremonial responsibilities of being head of state in a constitutional monarchy (“What am I?”). Stubborn, contemplative but thoroughly likeable.

Without revealing too much, the new heir, William and his wife Kate, have a considerable impact on events, after Charles refuses to give royal assent to a new press regulation bill, concerned it’s overly restrictive.

Tallan Cameron and Steph Cotter play a believable royal couple taking us on a compelling journey as their characters evolve while attempting to restore the status quo. Although the loyal Camilla has relatively little stage time, Barbara Holgate-Stuckey portrays her gracefully and effectively.

Jim Markey gives a typically commanding performance as Prime Minister Evans from the moment he walks in for his first audience with the new King. It’s clear he will not compromise or deviate from tradition and the expert delivery of his dialogue showcases his extensive experience of performing Shakespeare.

A new addition is a weekly audience with Stevens, the leader of the opposition, creating an interesting cross-party dynamic, Devi Smart embraces the opportunity to influence Charles’ thinking.

Time has given us opportunity to compare Bartlett’s vision with subsequent events and there is something very familiar with Harry (Joshua Holloway) requesting to distance himself from the family after falling for art student Jess (Lauren Ryan).

It's always difficult to mention all on stage, but Sarah Gennoe as Reiss and Hannah Humbles, playing multiple roles, including the ghost of Diana, made important contributions to the well-balanced cast.

Director Cliff Francis clarified that he wasn’t looking for impersonations or lookalikes, the focus being on the ‘alternate universe’ version of England. Although difficult not to think of the actual royal individuals being depicted, the imagined events do facilitate acceptance of the presentations on stage.

The simple set allowed for multiple efficient scene changes, bar one slightly laboured change in the second act that could have been due to opening night technical issues. The use of a screen to provide various backdrops as well as a pre-recorded scene was helpful with the space available.

King Charles III encourages us to reflect on the roles of the monarchy, politicians and press and the respective powers of each and I thank the Barn for continuing to deliver such diverse offerings.