I have never walked out of the theatre in my life. It seems like jumping out of a plane halfway across the Atlantic, pulling out before you've climaxed, or leaving half a bottle of beer, just because you don't feel like finishing. In principle, you've paid for the whole thing, and it seems stupid to opt out halfway through. The only possibility is that it's so impossible to continue enduring whatever you're putting yourself through that you have to escape before you surrender your soul to self-hating oblivion.
This, unfortunately, was the position I found myself in when I went to the hugely successful King Charles III at Wyndham's Theatre. With brilliant seats and high expectations, the house lights dimmed as the actors filed onto stage and I sat on the edge of my seat. Within half an hour, I was slumped back into it, disillusioned and as depressed as a jobless elf during December.
As the title suggests, Queen Elizabeth II is dead and Charles is negotiating his grip on the crown, starting off with a disagreement with the Prime Minister over a bill that strangles the freedom of the press and challenges democracy in the UK. Tim Pigott-Smith was the perfect choice for Charles, deploying every mannerism and characteristic we know of the Prince of Wales.
Every royal cliche was deployed in portraying the main characters - Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry - with no sense of originality outside the tabloids. Speech was almost Shakespearean in its pomposity - perhaps to match the knowing references to Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear - and delivered with such disdain that it was as if the actors hated themselves for being on stage.
The sub-plot line - Harry falling for a wildly rebellious girl in a club who dared to think outside the walls of Buckingham Palace - dominated far too much of a play that was supposed to be about his father's succession to the throne, and the absence of the Queen was notable not for the eye-catching outfits so much as the witty repartee Helen Mirren maintained with her Prime Ministers and family. If only Peter Morgan had waved his magic wand over this production.
And then there was the ghost of Diana, wafting through the stage as delicately as like a drunk City worker on the train out to the suburbs. Intended as a surprise - maybe? - she was about as expected as regret after a one-night stand, and spoke in a faux-ghost voice that make several in the audience shift uneasily rather than lean forward with intrigue.
The UK's sense of 'self' has been on everyone's lips before and since the Scottish referendum, but the play offered no fresh perspective, no challenging look, and no inspired view. There were moments of humour peeking out through the bleakness but they did little to relieve this overworked and stereotypical view of the monarchy, saved only by a beautifully understated performance from Pigott-Smith.
Maybe I left because I was tired, because Bake-Off was on, because I had to wash my hair - alas this wasn't an awkward first date, but a play that failed to deliver a stimulating view on Charles' reign. There's a first time for everything, I just didn't think that walking out of the theatre would be one.Suggest a correction