Tag Archives: Tim Pigott-Smith

“Charles III” at Wyndham’s Theatre

Mike Bartlett’s biggest hit to date, Charles III, has made a much-deserved transfer to the West End after rave reviews at the Almeida. Billed as a ‘future history play’, Bartlett imagines Prince Charles ascending to the throne and a constitutional crisis that arises when he refuses to sign a bill privileging privacy over the freedom of the press.

As well as being topical and very funny, the ideas are so outlandish – especially the presence of Princess Diana’s ghost – that it might all have turned out a bit silly. But it works. Royally. With a set of buzzing performances headed by a superb Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role, all the actors manage a fine balance between impersonation and a deeper intent. There are laughs at first, but these are well-developed roles and the serious subject matter is fascinating. Director Rupert Goold is uncharacteristically restrained; he knows the play speaks for itself.

Bartlett takes on the Shakespearean mantle with courage and panache. The play is written in verse, a demanding choice that adds humour and holds the attention. References to Shakespeare’s plays are light; it’s not so much the form and language that Bartlett borrows from the Bard as those ambitious themes of responsibility, family and identity – all of which are dealt with so intelligently that the royal soap opera is left far behind.

Not that the house of Windsor doesn’t make great raw material. The drama of youth vs experience, so ably depicted by Princes Harry and William (two sides of Shakespeare’s Hal?), is embraced by actors Richard Goulding and Oliver Chris. Imagining future events in such a fashion makes the heritage of Shakespeare’s history plays a kind of prism, creating layers of speculation. Bartlett handles the possibilities with wit, ensuring that Charles III  is both entertaining and unpredictable, while raising big questions and creating real pathos.

Until 31 January 2015

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 September 2014 for The London Magazine

“A Delicate Balance”at the Almeida Theatre

Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance is the story of an elderly couple whose twilight years are disturbed by an alcoholic sister-in-law, a daughter’s failed marriage, and their best friends’ nervous breakdowns. A thought-provoking meditation on the duties of family and friendship, as well as an examination of the American dream, this is a fantastic piece of writing that’s ambitiously broad, but so intelligent and challenging that it is always absorbing.

Albee’s observations are inspired. Often more startling than sure-footed, they can jolt an audience to attention. Agnes and Tobias, the elderly couple in whose house we, and all the characters in the play come to stay in, form the focus of observations on age and gender. Agnes fears that she will come “adrift” in senility and claims her husband’s life has been easier than hers – all men have to worry about is “making ends meet until they meet the end”.

Unfortunately, the writing here is far stronger than the production. Albee has created a stifling social world of guarded conversations, full of innuendo, but director James Macdonald does it little justice. Desperation is conveyed too quickly, with no sense of the slide into apathy.

This fault matters less with characters clearly on the edge. Harry and Edna are the best friends who seek refuge due to their inexplicable fear. Diana Hardcastle’s panic is conveyed superbly, likewise her battle to stay and claim the ‘rights’ of her friendship with Agnes. Imelda Staunton plays Clare, the alcoholic sister-in-law, with wit and perspicacity.

Tim Pigott-Smith (Tobias) in A Delicate Balance at the Almeida Theatre. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Tim Pigott-Smith as Tobias

But the production falters with its central characters and the talented cast never satisfactorily deals with Albee’s articulacy. Penelope Wilton’s Agnes is too magisterial and Tim Pigott-Smith’s Tobias always so close to a breakdown it is hard to imagine him as the conventional man he has always seemed to be.

The skeletons in this family’s closet are so easily exposed you wonder if the wardrobe door was ever closed. Macdonald’s indelicate production destroys Albee’s cleverly constructed rhythm – too much weight is given to calls to activism and not enough to either the humour or humanity of the piece.

Until 2 July 2011


Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 13 May 2011 for The London Magazine