Robert Powell: To play the king

Robert Powell as Charles (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Robert Powell as Charles
(c) Richard Hubert Smith

We meet the man born to rule – on stage at least.

Robert Powell does a very good impression of Prince Charles – I’ve heard it, and I can testify, it’s uncannily accurate.

“He’s easy to impersonate,” he explains, “because he has quite a lot of tics and mannerisms.” Unfortunately, you won’t get to hear it, because when Robert appears in the title role of King Charles III at The Marlowe Theatre in a few weeks, he won’t be doing an impersonation.

The play –  a hit at London’s Almeida Theatre and in the West End – is what’s described as a ‘future history, imagining the months immediately after the Queen’s death, as Charles ascends the throne. It was first performed at London’s Almeida Theatre in April of last year, and has since gone on to a sold out West End run and garnered numerous awards, including this year’s Olivier award for Best New Play. It’s just started a national tour, including a visit to The Marlowe later this month.


So, if imitation is not the name of the game, how does an actor tackle playing a real life figure. Did it make Robert approach the role in a different way?

“Not really…I’ve played many, many real people before, but they’ve all been dead! I don’t think it makes a difference. The process of acting is relatively straightforward – doing it isn’t, that’s much more complicated than it looks, but the initial process essentially is… you use yourself. You’re just trying those elements of yourself which chime [with the role] and you pull them out. I know the Prince of Wales to speak to, we’ve met each other many times, we are familiar with each other – I’m an ambassador of the Prince’s Trust – he’s a man for whom I have enormous respect, which is a nice starting point.”

Robert is an actor who has played Jesus (in Franco Zefferelli’s famous 1977 TV series ) and more recently , Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot on the stage – he’s used to playing characters that audiences come to with fixed expectations.

“I’ve got to say, and I’m quite proud of this, that that has never daunted me at all. And if you like, it’s a peculiar kind of arrogance – it’s probably the arrogance that’s managed to sustain a fifty year career – which involves a great deal of self belief. All actors need this…Year after year, different actors can play Hamlet or whatever, and people go, ’You’re following whoever,’ and you go ‘No, no’, because you’re not following anyone , this is a completely new performance. The fact it’s me, means it’s different, by definition. It will not be the same as any other performance.”

So, would Robert like to be king himself, in real life? The answer is a very firm no.

“It’s not something you seek out, unless you’re psychotic… This is something that’s explored in the play, about being anointed by God, not by man.”

King Charles III: Tuesday 26th to Saturday 31st October

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