By James Karas
King Charles III, “a future history play” in the words of its author, is now playing at the CAA Theatre (formerly Panasonic) in Toronto. I came, I saw it and did not like it.
Why? Liking or not liking a play or a production is a subjective reaction and theatre reviewers arrogate to themselves the right to express their views. If a play has been accepted as a great piece of work and a reviewer disagrees with established assessment s/he should eschew damning the work. No doubt s/he has superior knowledge and perception, but judicious silence may be more advisable than pompous display of whatever s/he possesses. Expressing an opinion that King Lear is a bad play will not gain you many fans.
Patrick Galligan, David Schurmann, Gray Powell
In that line of thinking, I begin by saying, that I don’t think King Charles III is a very good play. It is about the present Prince Charles becoming a king upon the death of his mother. For no better reason than personal preconception, I expect any play about Charles to be a comedy. He has been waiting for almost seventy years for his mother to die so he can get her job. I don’t think he is very bright and he has a tendency to be struck by foot-in-mouth disease and comment on matters that he should keep his mouth shut about. His sole accomplishment has been his choice of parents and satire is the only treatment that should be meted on him.
According to Mike Bartlett, when he becomes king, Charles precipitates a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign an act of parliament that restricts freedom of the press. Having started with the prejudice that Charles is suitable only for satire or broad comedy, I found it hard to accept such a principled stand by this less-than-well- honed knife in the drawer.
Bartlett has written the play in blank verse and has added the ghost of Princess Diana, another dummy, but a pretty one. This I suppose is intended to give the play a Shakespearean dimension, a dimension for which the Greeks had a word: hubris.
We have a family crisis with Prince Harry dating a commoner and wanting to become a commoner himself for the sake of love. Harry has the defining family trait – he is stupid. When you have everything and nothing to do and there are people fawning on you all your life, brain cells simply do not develop.
L-R - Jeff Meadows, Shannon Taylor, David Schurmann, Rosemary Dunsmore
(William, Kate, Camilla and Charles)
The constitutional crisis becomes a serious national issue. The Prime Minister threatens to bypass the King. The King exercises an arcane prerogative by storming into the House of Commons and dissolving Parliament. That is pretty serious stuff. The nation is up in arms and the United Kingdom is starting to look like a banana republic though I am sure no bananas are grown on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Whatever the virtues or lack thereof of King Charles III, the production by Studio 180 did not help it. It is done on a raised platform with none of the accoutrements of posh royalty in the set. The Canadian actors under the direction of Joel Greenberg, cannot give us the ambience of events in Buckingham Palace. We are used to crisp English upper crust accents in that venue and alas we get sad attempts at it but they fall short of satisfactory.
A few credits. David Schurmann plays a straight-backed, serious and principled Charles which I could not take seriously. Wade Bogert-O’Brien plays Prince Harry and Jessica Greenberg is his girlfriend Jess. Gray Powell is the Prime Minister and Patrick Galligan is the Leader of the Opposition, both are politicians.
Rosemary Dunsmore plays Camilla and looks like the real one. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and Charles’ replacement is played by Jeff Meadows and Shannon Taylor is his wife Catherine. The set is by John Thompson.
King Charles III premiered in 2014 in London and has had a number of productions in the United States and Canada. It won the 2004 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play and the Broadway production was nominated for a number of awards but did not win any.
As you can see there is no telling for tastes and there is a chance you will like King Charles III, the play, and you may even be thrilled by Prince Charles himself. As I said, there is no telling for taste.
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett in a production by Studio 180 continues until March 4, 2018 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St.
Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com