Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) production of Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III is a stunner. It is a clever look into a usually unseen political hall-of-mirrors. It is also a most telling tale of a fictionalized royal family in distress and disarray that seems “ripped from the headlines,” as that overused phrase goes.
Bartlett provides a finely imagined, though believable, look into Great Britain’s unknown future along with a startling intimate gaze into a Royal family’s cloistered life. Bartlett’s commanding word play bounds off the stage with force in the likeness of the ever malleable words of William Shakespeare as his guide.
So, quickly put, my immediate reaction to Mike Bartlett and his King Charles III is that he is one brave dude with big cajones.
David Muse’s direction of King Charles III has a touching, caring approach for Bartlett’s creation. Muse brings the show’s characters to ingenious life; not some lurid tabloid front-page garishness. Muse has steered King Charles III into being much more than a political thriller populated with sharp-tongued partisans battling in venomous conditions over a proposed bill to reduce the freedom of the press.
What Muse did was unexpected by me as I read over the program for King Charles III. I soon enough came to care about the characters and their relationships with one another. The Royal family I saw became very human to me. I didn’t like them all, but I was alert to their individual burdens and unease as a family as their lives unfolded on the STC stage. For a select few, I pitied their existence.
You will not be surprised that I agree with the glowing review from my DC Theater Arts colleague Sophia Howes that King Charles III is a dandy.
Now King Charles III is easily a production with resonance in our current stressful American times. For me, the political aspects of the production came to the forefront as I saw the performance not long after watching a Sunday news talk show. What can I say but this: The seemingly rehearsed spoken words from one of the President’s senior policy advisers could have been lifted with just a few edits here and there from the Bartlett script. One such line from a real-life Sunday show was something like this; “the president’s power will not be questioned by the courts.” And that dear friends is certainly not far from one of the central core of Bartlett’s script.
After taking in the mature writing of Bartlett’s King Charles III, I also drifted back into my own more youthful days and remembered reactions to Barbara Garson’s 1965 MacBird! that I happily enjoyed with gusto as agiprop for other turbulent times. (MacBird! starred a very young Stacey Keach who has often graced the STC stage).
What I want to highlight are these tidbits:
For me the production became more insightful as it delved into the dramatic possibilities for various Royal Family relationships. These moments were personal, intimate, dramatic and plausible.
I found Robert Joy’s self-aware portrayal of King Charles III as a father one that I could totally understand and relate to. He was a loving, joyful Dad; not a stuffy Monarch. He wanted his two sons to be fulfilled, even if it meant Prince Harry taking an action that was rare. King Charles III would allow that leaving a cushy, safe upper crust family to find love with a commoner was acceptable behavior, not crazy talk.
I felt sorrow for Prince Harry (as portrayed by Harry Smith) when his joyful act to find his own agency and fulfillment with a “commoner” (a gentle performance from Michelle Beck) was destroyed by older brother Prince William (Christopher McLinden). Prince Harry became a pitiful, emasculated young puppy brother as this is what the more ruthless Prince William needed his younger brother to become.
With some ghostly apparitions of now dead folk making their through the Royal castle, the very much alive character named Camilla (Jeanne Paulsen) is a mature, spunky wife who wanted her husband King Charles III to be treated with dignity.
As Princess Kate, Allison Jean White provided zeal in her role as counselor to her husband Prince William. She also had one of the more memorable lines that sounds rather like a 160 character Tweet from on high: “We know that world. Our column inches are the greatest influence that we possesses.”
Don’t miss this royal treat.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
King Charles III plays through March 18, 2017, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall – 610 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.
Spine: ‘King Charles III’ at The Shakespeare Theatre Company by Robert Michael Oliver.
Review: ‘King Charles III’ at The Shakespeare Theatre Company by Sophia Howes.
In the Moment: ‘King Charles III’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company by David Siegel.
The Subplot Quickens: A Q&A with Michelle Beck About Her Remarkable Role in ‘King Charles III’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company by John Stoltenberg.