Howard Brenton’s fact-based new play looks at a crucial moment in history when, in 1648 after years of civil war, the divine right of kings came under question and the ruling monarch, Charles I, found himself on trial for high treason, facing judgement by those he believed to be his inferiors in every way.
Howard Davies’ austere production highlights the perceived difference between the accused king and his subjects, clothing them in dull grey suits in contrast to the flamboyance of Mark Gatiss’s Charles in his elevated heels, flowing locks and period finery.
Even as he is moved from castle prison to castle prison, he believes until the last that he is beyond the scope of the law.
Brenton’s drama takes a while to hit its stride – and it probably helps if you’re familiar with the background history.
But an imagined meeting between two men, who both believe god is on their side, (the stubbornly intransigent royal and Douglas Henshall’s conflicted Cromwell, his reservations prompting him to try his utmost to avoid the inevitable execution) proves compelling, as do the parliamentary court proceedings.
And Gatiss, with a Scottish-tinged accent and disdainful demeanour holds the traverse stage with an air of isolated superiority.
Hamp stead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
Tube | Swiss Cottage
Until 24th November
Image: Catherine Ashmore