King Charles III drama team turns focus on Brexit-era British identity
Writer continues to court political controversy Hit show about monarchy sowed seeds of new play
A new work by Mike Bartlett, the writer behind hit play and BBC drama King Charles III, is to be staged as part of the new season at the Almeida, exploring ideas of British identity today against the backdrop of an English country house.
With the play, Albion, Bartlett returns to the theatre where the Olivier awardwinning production of King Charles III was first staged and will be directed by Almeida artistic director Rupert Goold.
Goold and Bartlett collaborated on the stage and television versions of King Charles III, both of which were critically acclaimed. Goold said the seeds of Albion were sown when the pair were working on the BBC adaptation last year, against the backdrop of the EU referendum and questions about national identity it prompted.
“Mike is a self-consciously political playwright a lot of the time and he felt that one of the great things about theatre is that it can respond without any mediation really,” said Goold.
Goold said although he talked to Bartlett about writing a new work for the Almedia, he had almost given up hope until the play landed in his inbox a couple of months ago “without any warning”.
“I can’t say much other than it’s about England now.” He added: “In the ruins of a garden in rural England, in a house which was once home, one woman searches for seeds of hope.
“It’s about a family and it speaks to those classic American or Russian plays like August, Osage County or The Cherry Orchard, about a family alone in a country house that carries memories.”
The play shows Bartlett’s “special gift of writing brilliant parts for women” and Victoria Hamilton will play the lead role.
“Initially it’s really rich and comic and entertaining, a little bit like King Charles III, but it has real emotional bite, and he’s marrying that into the amazing formal ability that he’s got,” said Goold.
Bartlett does not shy away from addressing political issues – his last work, Wild, centred on an Edward Snowden-like figure and state surveillance. King Charles III, which was first staged at the Almeida in 2014, offered a dystopic vision of what could happen if Prince Charles took the throne. The BBC adaptation, which aired in May, was seen by some as controversial for its sensitive subject matter and an appearance by the ghost of Princess Diana.
Bartlett’s other TV projects include BBC drama Doctor Foster, of which he is writing a second series, and Trauma, a new series for ITV about a grieving father.
Goold said Albion had partially been born out of a line in King Charles III when Charles, dissolving parliament, says: “I’ve planted an albion oak in British soil.”
“Mike is interested in these ideas of national identity – the monarchy, the land– that are potentially greater than ideology or party politics, but he’s also not afraid to question those,” said Goold.
Also announced as part of the Almeida’s new season will be the world premiere of a work by American playwright Anne Washburn, the Twilight Zone, based on the 1960s television series, and a revival of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke.
Mike Bartlett came in for criticism when he offered a dystopian vision of Prince Charles taking the throne