His son and successor, King Felipe VI, who is trying to steer the
crown through a period of sweeping change in Spain, also gets faint
praise from the crowd.
The play, called "El Rey" (the King), is billed as a fresh look at
the monarchy's place over the past 40 years and questions whether
Juan Carlos really had a useful role in shaping modern Spain. It is
less than flattering.
Felipe, 48, took over the throne in June 2014 after his father
abdicated following a series of embarrassing episodes.
He is now facing his biggest test yet after the most fractured
election result in decades left Spain without a clear government and
thrust him into the role of broker between political parties.
At the same time, his sister Princess Cristina is standing trial on
fraud charges, the first time a Spanish royal has been put before a
The new king's attempts to draw a line under the family scandals and
modernize the monarchy have restored some of its popularity but
scored few points with the theater crowd in a neighborhood known for
its leftist roots.
"I suppose that given he is from a new generation, that he married a
journalist, he might have a different attitude," said Jose Antonio
Ortega, a retired theater director waiting in the crowded bar to
take his seat in El Teatro del Barrio.
But Ortega doubted whether Felipe had any scope to bring change to
an institution he sees as an anachronism.
Others Spaniards may have embraced the monarchy's fresher, more
frugal image under Felipe in the 18 months he has reigned.
A poll in June 2015 showed a record 61.5 percent approved of the
parliamentary monarchy system, more than at the height of Juan
Felipe has also managed to build up the type of personal following
his father once enjoyed, with approval ratings of nearly 75 percent.
Juan Carlos was at one time revered, largely for his role in
smoothing Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy and in
particular in foiling a coup attempt on Feb. 23, 1981, when
heavily-armed civil guards took over the parliament.
But a series of gaffes in recent years, including a luxury
elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 at a time of severe
economic hardship for many Spaniards, eroded a huge amount of
support for the royals.
Now Spain's greatest period of political upheaval since the
transition in the 1970s has set the stage for Felipe's own chance to
define the monarchy for years to come.
RISKS FOR ROYALS
The splintered result of the December election, when the ruling
People's Party won most parliamentary seats but fell far short of a
majority, marked a rejection of the old guard that has largely
governed Spain in those four decades.
Like other monarchs in Europe, Felipe holds no real power to make
political decisions although he does give the green light to
negotiations between parties in a country with little tradition of
Any sign he is overstepping the mark would be risky. (In Britain,
heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles has faced criticism over his
perceived meddling in policy issues).
Felipe's closed-door contacts with parties - including two new
parties, the anti-austerity Podemos and centrist Ciudadanos -
received an unusual degree of scrutiny when leaders gave their
versions of the meetings in televised news conferences.
[to top of second column]
And while the king has now asked the second-placed Socialists to try
to form a coalition, the chances of this option failing are high,
which could lead to another election.
Still, the wrangling over a government in Spain could work to
Felipe's advantage, said Javier Tajadura, a professor of
constitutional law at the University of the Basque Country.
The king had emerged as a dignified figure as parties squabble,
"He's been very prudent, and followed the steps he needed to take
with a scrupulous neutrality," he said.
At a butcher shop in the expensive Madrid neighborhood of Salamanca,
owner Jose Alvarez echoed that mood, joking with a customer that the
monarch may face no option but to shut leaders in a room to work
"Felipe is doing very well," 42-year-old Alvarez said, breaking away
from selling his cured Iberian hams. "He's carrying out his role -
the only one he's really going to have in his life."
The coalition talks are not the only political problem facing
Felipe. An independence push in the northeastern region of
Catalonia, which is governed by pro-secession parties, is putting
the head of state in another bind.
But Princess Cristina's trial, due to resume in Mallorca on Tuesday,
is potentially the most toxic subject of all.
The princess, who is charged with two counts of being an accessory
to tax fraud in a case centered on her husband Inaki Urdangarin's
business dealings, faces weeks of court appearances. She denies any
Even some convinced monarchists like retired insurance worker Jaime
Cobian believe Cristina should give up her right to the throne, for
which she is seventh in line.
"Cristina and Urdangarin have done so much damage to the monarchy.
It's truly scandalous," said the 75-year-old Cobian.
Sensitive to a growing intolerance for corruption - which largely
fueled the political upset - and to accusations the monarchy was out
of touch, Felipe has struck a more austere tone. His coronation
ceremony was pared back and he has opened up the palace accounts to
Spain has had brief incarnations as a republic, including in the
run-up to the 1936-39 civil war, and has long had a vocal
Back in the theater in Lavapies, many said the trial was unlikely to
sway their long-held opinion of the monarchy.
"Felipe took a first step by cutting his sister out of the family,"
teacher Carlos Gonzalez said. "Now we're getting to the last stage.
Let's see how the trial goes, we'll see if he is really intervening
in some way."
(Reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.