King Charles III
Mike Bartlett's smashing political drama gets royal treatment at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Gary Griffin
Audiences have long been fascinated with the inner workings of England's royal family and the success of recent shows such as Netflix's The Crown suggest that public appetite for stories about the Monarchy is far from waning. Mike Bartlett's acclaimed King Charles III (now being filmed for a BBC2 adaptation) is another example of renewed interest in the royals. This future history play looks forward to a post-Elizabeth II future when Charles, the "King-in-waiting," asends the throne. After successful productions on London's West End and Broadway, the 2015 Olivier Award winner for Best New Play is now on stage at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in a remarkable production directed by Gary Griffin.
Written in blank verse, King Charles III is a modern Shakespearean drama casting an epic spotlight on the future of the Monarchy. After his mother’s death, Prince Charles (played by Downton Abbey's Robert Bathurst) at last receives his time to rule. He is put to the test immediately when a law severely limiting the freedom of the press is passed by parliament and awaits his signature, as tradition dictates. He meets with fictional Prime Minister Tristan Evans (Sean Fortunato) and decides on the spot he will not sign.
Prince William (Jordan Dean) and his wife Kate (Amanda Drinkall) try to convince Charles see reason and, for the protection of the crown, implore him to sign the bill. Camilla (Kate Skinner) defends her husband and his decision as the prime minister and leader of the opposition Mark Stevens (David Lively), present a united front to preserve the power of parliament.
Meanwhile, Prince Harry (Alec Manley Wilson) is immersed in his own drama concerning his identity and personal freedom which intensifies when he meets and falls in love with a rebellious artist Jess (Rae Gray), who finds herself at the centre of a press scandal.
As a result of the King's stubborn display of will, defying centuries of tradition, the country is thrown into crisis as it rethinks Britain’s unwritten constitution, its traditions of a sovereign’s role and the power of their elected officials. And England’s most famous family must consider how they will correct the situation to maintain stability.
The outcome is a thought-provoking imagined scenrio that, while far-fetched, does not seem entirely outside of the realm of possibility in today's unpredictable political climate. Featuring rich set and costume design, and a thrust stage that brings the audience intimately close to the action, this production boasts strong performances overall. Despite some inconsistency with the accents and a couple of flubbed lines, the cast delivers a strikingly accurate portrayal of the personalities we have come to know, or think we know, through many years of media exposure.
King Charles III is on stage until January 15, 2017 at the Chigaco Shakespeare Theatre. Visit chicagoshakespeare.com for more information and to buy tickets.