Alas, poor Charles, we know thee well. Thou hast the distinction of being the longest serving Prince of Wales and were married to Diana, Princess of Wales, beautiful, not too bright and beloved of the people. You are not the sharpest knife in the royal drawer either and with your stiff bearing, floppy ears and frequent overextensions of your limited intellectual prowess, you earned our neglect of you.
But not forever. Mike Bartlett has paid you the compliment of writing a futuristic play set in the imaginary, if not too far off future, when you are King Charles III. The programme cover promises that this is a “JOVIAL POLITICAL SATIRE” and we believe it.
The Queen is dead and the cast of . Photo by David Cooper.
As it must, King Charles III opens with the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of Prince Charles to the throne. The new king is asked to perform one of his traditional roles that of signing his assent to legislation passed by parliament. The new law purports to limit the freedom of the press. The king, who is supposed to be a serious, principled and an intelligent monarch, refuses to give his assent and thus precipitates a serious constitutional crisis. Not too many laughs so far.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition state that the King has no right to refuse to sign the legislation and the king is just as adamant that he will not do it. How will we get out of this quandary?
We have a subplot involving Prince Harry who mixes with the people, falls in love with a commoner whose naked-in-bed photos are available for publication and who does her best to appear obnoxious. He wants to give up everything and live with her like a normal worker. In other words he takes Windsor family thickness some distance down from the low norm.
Bartlett’s play creaks on with an almost empty tank as he tries to manufacture material to keep it chugging along. Jovial political satire? Let me know if you find any. This is a serious constitutional and political impasse that could dispatch the British monarchy to the dustbin of history. Caution: spoiler. The king makes the crisis worse by using an ancient right of his to dissolve parliament. There is violence in the streets, hints of military takeover, perhaps civil war and our concern for the outcome causes our blood pressure to soar downwards.
The play may be better than it seemed in this production. The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage’s acoustics made some of the actors sound as if they spoke in a tunnel. Some of them failed to enunciate or speak loudly enough and that is not a great recommendation.
Ted Cole’s King Charles III who gives the initial impression of being smart and principled turns out to be a weakling who commands neither authority nor regal majesty. But Bartlett tells us that he is also a troubled and articulate workaholic We agree with his position on the restriction of press freedom but he does not convince us. He reminded me of Shakespeare’s Richard II who took his anointment seriously and thought that he was appointed by God.
Simon Webb as Prime Minister Evans is a caricature of a leftist with his ill-fitting grey suit and bow tie and boorish manners. Christine Wiles as the Leader of the Opposition is a classic politician who talks from both sides of her mouth without stretching a muscle.
Charles Rice with his rumbling voice plays the tall Prince William but we could have done with more consistent enunciation. Katherine Gauthier’s Kate is a clever, touchy-feely and manipulative feminist.
Ted Cole and Gwynyth Walsh in King Charles III. Photo by David Cooper.
Charlie Gallant’s Prince Harry in a red wig and a plebeian Jess (Agnes Tong) is a caricature of the dumb royal as is Jess of the common people.
The play has numerous Shakespearean overtones, none so bizarre as the appearance of a Ghost (Lauren Bowler). This is the ghost of Diana who is very corporeal as she hugs and kisses her son William and Charles. She mysteriously tells both of them that they will be the greatest kings ever. Jovial satire, eh?
Gwynyth Walsh appears as Camilla wearing a ridiculous hat in the first scene but settles down to being a supportive wife of the hapless Charles.
The play is done on an empty stage designed by Kevin McAllister dominated by a large copper globe with a cross on top symbolizing the crown.
Kevin Bennett expresses his enthusiasm for the play in the programme but it may have seemed better in his imagination than he has brought on the stage. The play may have nuggets of humour and appear less sluggish in a different production. As it is in this production, it makes for a bad night at the theatre.
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett, in a production by Arts Club Theatre Company, continues until November 19, 2017 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville St. Vancouver, B.C.