Robert Powell steps into Prince Charles’ shoes at Chichester Festival Theatre

Robert Powell
Robert Powell

So has it heightened or lessened his chances of a knighthood?

Robert Powell, who plays the title role in King Charles III at Chichester Festival Theatre

(November 30-December 5), laughs at the thought.

“I really don’t think I was ever in consideration! You know how honours work. They don’t just fall into your lap. They have to be worked for… Obviously they have to be worked for. But you have to have someone working for you on your behalf. I lead a very private life, a very ordinary, private life, and I don’t attend the functions that I would have to attend if I were interested in that kind of thing… which I am not!But actually we do know each other. We are not friends. We don’t socialise, but I am an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, and we meet at Trust events. We are also members of the same club, though Charles doesn’t pitch up to many events.”

But no, their paths haven’t crossed since Robert started playing Charles on stage: “But I think we can give too much importance to these things. I don’t think the royal family care terribly much to be honest.”

Far more to the point is that the play is a brilliant piece of writing, Robert says – a look into an imagined future in which the new Charles III finds himself in the middle of a constitutional crisis.

“It has got very good dramatic moments. The fifth Act of the play I would think Charles would consider over the top, but we have got to concede that this is drama as well, and it would be rather dull if there was not just a little bit of… well, not exaggeration, but perhaps hyperbole.

“It is certainly a very difficult thing to do. This role costs me blood. When I first talked to (director) Rupert about it in the spring, we had a chat, and I said ‘Are we talking about impersonation here?’ and he said absolutely not, that that was the way that would kill the play. The energy that goes into impersonation would sap the energy of the actors and the audience, and the audience would spend too much time thinking ‘Well, he’s not very like Charles!’ I have got dark curly hair for a start. Charles hasn’t.”

So no, it is much more about representation, Robert explains, picking up on certain of Charles’ mannerisms, his habit of playing with his ring, his habit of over-emphasising a word he is searching for and then finds… “And the audience are happy with that…

“The play is very cleverly done. Far too many political dramas – perforce because writers are what they are – are written from a standpoint and often from a very strong standpoint. Mostly political dramas are from a left-wing standpoint, and that’s fine, but the great thing about this is that (playwright) Mike (Bartlett) has put together quite brilliantly a piece that shows the whole picture, and people have been saying it is in fact a bit of a thriller. Members of the audience have no idea what is going to come next…

“The starting point is the death of the Queen, and what seems like a small request to Charles, in keeping with his character, turns into a constitutional crisis. He is asked to put his signature on a bill, as the monarch usually does.

“The bill can’t go through parliament without the monarch’s consent, and the Queen has never withheld her consent...”

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