King Charles III at Harman Hall
Today millions of people around the world have followed the foibles of the British Royal family. Some think it plays out like the E Entertainment show The Royals, others have a more realistic view.
Queen Elizabeth II just celebrated her 65th year on the throne and her 90th birthday. So it is quite possible sometime in our lifetime there will be a new Monarch. That could be Prince Charles who is now 68 years old; or as some have speculated it could be the younger and more popular Prince William. The soap opera lives of the royal family over the years are well known and the playwright assumes we know them because it helps when trying to get the humor in the play. That includes Charles divorcing Diana and her following death (both Charles and William see her ghost during the play). One would have followed Charles’ love affair and marriage to Camilla; Prince Harry’s wild escapades; and the wedding of Prince William to the beautiful Kate Middleton and the birth of their son Prince George. Many of us go into the theater having imagined Prince Charles must have thought about what he would do were he to become King.
Mike Bartlett, the award winning playwright of King Charles III, tried to imagine this as well. As the play opens “The Queen is dead. After a lifetime of waiting, Prince Charles ascends the throne with Camilla by his side. As William, Kate and Harry look on, Charles prepares for the future of power that lies before him…but how to rule? Written primarily in Shakespearean blank verse, this modern history play explores the people underneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of Britain’s democracy and the conscience of its most famous family.” The first production of the play opened to rave reviews in London in 2014. It has since traveled around the world earning rave reviews including five Tony nominations for its New York run.
The production at the Shakespeare Theatre is directed by the very talented David Muse, currently Artistic Director at the Studio Theater. The cast is nearly uniformly superb with Robert Joy as King Charles III carrying most of the burden of selling the premise. He is in nearly every scene and really makes you think about what could happen if Prince Charles were to try to make up for being King-in-waiting for all these years. The basis of the play is Charles challenging the Parliament which has just passed a law curbing the Press. The Prime Minister has come to ask for his signature on the bill, a formality during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Yet despite the Royal family having suffered from the pen of an open press for decades Charles believes curbing them hurts democracy. In today’s world, particularly with Donald Trump’s Presidency and his administration’s use of ‘Alternative Facts’ this resonates for all of us. Charles just ends up going a little overboard in his fight with Parliament.
Camilla is played to perfection by Jeanne Paulsen and if one has followed Camilla in real life you appreciate her portrayal all the more. Harry Smith is a great Prince Harry and Michelle Beck is wonderful as his Republican Girlfriend Jessica. Allison Jean White has the beauty and style of the real Kate and is the spokesperson for the women’s rights movement in the play. She choreographs Charles downfall and William’s ascendency to the throne and her own to Queen. While watching the show the weakest link in the cast seemed to be Christopher Mclinden as Prince William. But upon reflection that may have been what his role called for as he does portray what many think William is; a decent, quite young man who needs a little push from his wife to get his courage up.
The set design by Daniel Ostling is simple and perfect and the costumes designed by Jennifer Moeller run the gamut from every day simplicity to full beribboned uniforms and beautiful coronation outfits for William and Kate.
King Charles III will be at the Shakespeare Theatre Harman Hall through March 12th.