I have always been an Anglophile, and from my mother, part of that was a fascination with the British Royals. We watched Diana’s funeral (I fell asleep) and William and Kate’s wedding (I took the day off work and barely slept the night before). Meeting and dating an Englishman of my very own feels like I’m cheating in some cosmic game of MASH. But back to the Royals, because our latest Shakespeare Theatre tickets were focused on a story featuring the modern royal family – although it’s a story that hasn’t come to pass yet. Let’s call this a “speculative history” play.
The play is King Charles III, and centers around the time immediately following the death of Elizabeth II. Charles is finally taking power, but things are not turning out quite as he expected. One of the ceremonial duties of monarch is to sign bills that the parliament passes, except that the King feels he cannot sign the first one that is to come across his desk – that it needs to be more fully thought out. The result is a battle between King and parliament the likes of which have not been seen since the previous Charleses were on the throne. Throw in complications with William and Kate as the popular monarchs in waiting, and a subplot about Prince Harry and a commoner woman, and that’s it.
The basic plot as outlined above is very good. The problem comes when we get to the details, and for this I’ll need to employ some spoilers to the play. The climax of the first half of the play (the first three acts) is Charles dissolving parliament, and calling for new elections. In the play, this throws the country into turmoil – parliament refuses to disband, and instead meets “unofficially” in Westminster palace. Riots break out up and down the country, mostly against the new king. And all over a bill that restricts press “freedoms” – a bill that neither the Boy nor I could see wreaking this kind of havoc. Our comments to each other afterwards were that if elections were called for…there would be elections. Britain has rioted before, but not over something that feels insignificant in the scheme of things.
Also off is the portrayal of Prince Harry. He gets the “disguised royal among his people” subplot, and that’s pretty good, because Harry would go out and spend time with the people. But his character felt too dumb (in a slow, he has to say the words in his head before he speaks them aloud), loutish, and unnecessarily dissatisfied with his life. The real Harry, while not an academic by any means seems happy and congenial, and seems to thrive on being able to use his public platform to stand up for the issues that he cares about. He is disciplined after a decade in the army – not the aimless, purposeless, drunkard who stumbles across the stage. It also did not help that the actor who played him had a bad ginger dye job and looks more like Ed Sheeran than Prince Harry.
Also not helping? A handful of less than stellar English accents. Many were perfectly passable, but the “dirty London” accent of Jessica was not quite there. The meant-to-sound posh accent of Mr. Stevens (leader for the opposition) came across as more Eastern European than anything else. The Boy’s comment was that even a “Renaissance Faire-Shakespeare” English accent would have sounded better and been less distracting.
On the good side, many of the performances were excellent. Robert Joy as Charles was terrific. He was able to perfectly embody the character of Charles who has been preparing and waiting all his life to step in to take power. And then to whiff so terribly once he is actually there. Also wonderful was Allison Jean White as Kate. It’s easy to forget that just because she’s the pretty princess that Kate actually did better than William in university, and got into St. Andrew’s on merit and much less on family background. She is portrayed here as being openly ambitious for her husband and for her children, and bringing a unique point of view of both commoner and royal. It’s great.
Overall I would say that this show is worth a it if you’re interested in the British Monarchy, or in modern plays written in the Shakespearean style of blank verse. Not every show that the Shakespeare Theatre puts on can get an outrageous hit. The play is more than 2 1/2 hours, so be prepared for that, but it’s an engaging time spent at the theater that will leave you thinking, “what if?”
Details: King Charles III at the Shakespeare Theater, through March 12.