What follows is a witty, irreverent, but slightly depressing conflict between the short-sighted premier, who views the situation as a constitutional crisis which will see him unfairly booted out of office, and the hopelessly delusional prince who thinks that his relationship will work to the advantage of a multicultural society. Nobody comes out of it looking good. The cast, however, have a field day with the flippant script – Roddy Maude Roxby’s vague, innocent Archbishop of Canterbury got a laugh nearly every time he spoke, and Christian Brassington’s hammed up drunken younger prince became more pitiably sympathetic as the play progressed. Also notable were Toby Dantzic as an unlikely voice of reason and the ever adorable Jeff Rawle as the leader of the opposition.
As might be expected from a collaborator on recent tongue-in-cheek docudramas A Very Social Secretary and The Trial of Tony Blair, few concessions are made to what might be termed good taste. The political parallels are merciless and the jokes, peppered with obscenity and dubious social commentary, had the audience shaking with guilty hilarity. The satire is pretty heavy-handed and the punch lines easily anticipated, but Beaton’s marks (war on terror, spoilt rich kids, a Blair-a-like prime minister…) are such established game that it was impossible not to be entertained once it became clear that the humour wasn’t going to consist entirely of public figures saying ‘fuck’.
Although outwardly a sugary confection of a political comedy, King of Hearts does try to make a few serious points; the treatment of Nasreen by the trigger-happy security services, the ubiquitous political cynicism, and the pitfalls of religious belief, but without any truly sympathetic characters to deliver these it’s hard to take the message on board. There’s gentle allegory; Alister Cameron and Caroline Loncq, royal and parliamentary aides respectively, making a brief study in loyalty, and the bumbling archbishop representing the failings of his own Church, but a slightly bewildering attempt at a Shakespearean epilogue is a step too far.
Extremely, and challengingly, funny, King of Hearts is a glorious romp through the shattered wreckage of society’s ideals. Thoroughly worth it – just expect to be entertained, not educated.