11 plays about the monarchy ahead of the royal wedding
The month of May means Meghan Markle and Prince Harry getting hitched. What better way to celebrate than to reminisce over theatre's treatment of the royals?
We love a wedding but the nuptials happening this May are off the scale. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting hitched on Saturday 19 May and what better way to celebrate it in true thespy style than remembering many of the excellent times the royals were portrayed onstage?
And to make it that little bit harder for ourselves, we aren't including Shakespeare. Because, well, let's be honest, he'd fill this list.
Playwright Moira Buffini knows when she finds a juicy subject and what could be juicier than the relationship between Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher and reigning monarch Elizabeth II? The play, which originally opened at the Tricycle (now the Kiln Theatre), deftly portrays both characters in younger and older life phases. And using hilarious, sharply political one-liners, Buffini paints a portrait of two very different women. It's a (hypothetical) peek into what might have happened in the meetings between Queen Liz and Maggie T.
Following on from the theme of Handbagged is this classic, by Peter Morgan, which opened at a similar time as the former, this time directly into the West End. With Helen Mirren playing Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, The Audience looked at the weekly meetings held between the queen and her Prime Ministers from her accession right through to 2013, when the play first opened. It was hilarious, and Mirren had a terrifying likeness to the royal lady herself.
There was an initial London run after a breakout few weeks in Edinburgh last year for this radical, spunky new musical about the six wives of Henry VIII. Following firmly in the footsteps of the hip-hop hit Hamilton, Six is powered by an all-female cast and features songs including the wittily titled "Ex-Wives", "Haus of Holbein" and "Don't Lose Ur Head". It was a surprise break-out success at the Edinburgh Festival last year and if you missed it, it's returning for a UK tour over July, a second run at the fringe in August and then a turn at the Arts Theatre throughout September.
Queen Anne?? Never heard of her. In fact, Queen Anne ruled England, Scotland and Ireland between 1702 and 1707 and then just England and Scotland until her death in 1714. It wasn't just her plain sailing queenly moments that were the focus of Helen Edmundson's play for the RSC, however. The piece focuses on the rise and fall of her friendship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who was initially one of the queen's most trusted advisers and became one of the most influential women in the country.
Tanika Gupta's play focuses on the remarkable story of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, her attendant, and Rani Das, an Indian nanny. It's the same territory covered in the film Victoria & Abdul, starring none other than Dame Judi Dench. Karim was a favourite of Queen Victoria's and taught her Hindi. Sadly, as soon as the queen died, her 'Munshi' as she called him, was sent back to India. The play originally opened in 2013 and we're hoping for a revival some time soon...
King Charles III
Yikes. Mike Bartlett's play about what happens when Prince Charles becomes King Charles was a modern Shakespearean epic family drama, featuring ghosts, deaths, big decisions and much much more. All written in blank verse, the piece originally opened at the Almeida Theatre in 2014 before transferring to the West End. It was made into a TV film in 2017, much to the chagrin of many monarchists.
The Madness of King George III
Immortalised in a hit film starring the late Nigel Hawthorne as the unsettled monarch, this play originally ran at the National Theatre. Alan Bennett loves using the monarchy as subject in his plays and The Madness of King George III shows him at his royal best. The piece focuses on poor King George as he is stricken by mental illness and ill health which caused him to do some things kings definitely aren't supposed to. If you've never seen it (or even if you have) it will be revived with Mark Gatiss in the title role in Nottingham, to be directed by Adam Penford. Watch out for the NT Live screening of the show in November too.
The Diana Tapes
Arriving in London from New York to run at Stockwell Playhouse in June, The Diana Tapes cover the fall out from the publication of Andrew Morton's book Princess Diana, Her True Story in Her Own Words. The piece is based on real transcripts from the princess' tapes and moves between Morton's office, the sitting room where Princess Diana recorded the tapes and a west London cafe where they were handed over. The book came out in 1992, causing a bit of a scandal.
The second musical about monarchy on this list, HR Haitch is a brand new piece from Luke Bateman and Maz Evans. It's a fictional work, set in an east London pub under the threat of closure. When the proprietors realise a connection to the royal family, the owners of the Dog and Duck are thrust directly into the spotlight. Bateman's previous credits include the delightful Mr Popper's Penguins which has had excellent runs in the West End, so we think this will likely be a good'un.
The Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet have timed Elizabeth beautifully: it runs in the lead up to Harry and Meghan's big day between 16 and 19 May. Originally performed at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, this year's revival is at the Barbican Theatre starring Zenaida Yanowsky as Queen Elizabeth I. The piece is an exploration of the Tudor monarch and is inspired by her much-mooted private passions as well as her politics. Choreographer Will Tuckett – the man behind the company's hit Wind in the Willows – teams up with Alasdair Middleton (no relation, we don't think) to explore the remarkable queen.
Friedrich Schiller's remarkable Mary Stuart tells the thrilling tale of what happened when two women contended for the throne. Mary was locked up by Elizabeth, her cousin, for years in various manor houses in England while she worked out what on earth to do with her. After almost 19 years, Elizabeth chopped off Mary's bonce (no, that's not a spoiler because it's HISTORY). Robert Icke's recent, much heralded revival, which has just finished its tour, had the actresses playing the two leading ladies decide on the night, by the flick of a coin, who plays who. Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams were magnetic, in very different ways, in each role.
Honorable mentions: Exit the King (not technically our monarchy, but will open at the National Theatre starring Rhys Ifans soon) and Wolf Hall (the superb, sprawling adaptation of Hilary Mantel's hit books about Henry VIII).