Writing in five acts in blank verse, KING CHARLES III takes an ambitious stab at telling the future fortune of the powerful royal family. While the play takes its historical cues for how to tell this story from Shakespeare, it takes its entertainment cues straight from the British tabloids as it speculates on what the future holds in store for the royal family.
Queen Elizabeth has died and the crown has passed to Charles. As it opens at her funeral, Charles (Richard Rivera)cheers that he is now king bemoans that he to wait for the appropriate amount of time tradition requires for his coronation. Though as he says “My life has been a ling’ring for the throne” once presented with the first of his royal duties he has a crisis of conscience.
When asked to sign a bill restricting the freedom of the press, he demands that his thoughts on it be weighed by the Parliament. As this bill was already reviewed by the Queen prior to her death, they refuse and site that all due process has already been completed except for the royal signature.
Charles digs in saying that he is King now and her consent is no longer good enough. By refusing to give his signature to make the bill official he sets off a potential civil war as he tries to reassert his royal power which also endangers the power for the future royals.
Add to this William and Kate as both allies and foes to Charles, Harry who has grown tired of being a royal (he’s easily swayed by a pretty girl and the idea of late night kebabs), and a whole roster of scheming ministers and advisors, you get a play thick with the idea of “future historical drama.”
Per a tabloid way of addressing the characters, the characters are blown out of proportion and away from their current public persona to be drawn a bit more salacious and malicious, history be damned. Much like how Richard III is most often thought of as the uncle who killed his young nephews for the throne thanks to Shakespeare’s play (a personal favorite of mine), so here we have bold broad strokes outlined for characters.
Kate and Prince William become ambitious schemers, in the manner of Lady MacBeth and her Lord, as Kate pushes William into his ambition. There is a tragic ghost who haunts Charles and Willia and gives vague prophesy (poor Princess Diana can’t even rest in peace it seems). As always in Shakespeare’s histories, it is the politicians are those whose verbal and political trickery are the most dangerous and lead to the fall of an ill-fated king.
This play, and its large 16 person cast, is served well by the skill full direction of Tyler Richards Hewes. Using this cast he admirably gets them to cover a lot of ground building the world and the characters for this all to play out upon. Liza Wismer is a stand out as the scheming Tory leader Mrs. Stevens, an excellent Christopher Pittman as the prime minister, and Travis Rynders is an admirable Harry who is torn between two worlds. Kudos are also deserved by Vanessa Dinning as the dialect coach, who keep these actors believable sounding and away from the common pitfalls of Americans doing British accents.
None of this would work with a strong leader (dare we say King?), and Richard Rivera is that as the title character. He brings an emotional weight and depth to Charles that allows this play to succeed. This fictional Charles is ready to fight for his power to be respected, and paradoxically, is even willing to dismantle the peoples government to show how serious he is about the people getting a strong government. He pivots beautifully from confident and bombastic to doubtful and indecisive as Charles gets more tangled in his own scheme. Rivera really shines when Charles is on the decline, and like Shakespeare’s portrayal of Charles relative Richard II before him, turns more contemplative and philosophical.
True to its influence, this play is overly long, and should take a page from more modern adaptions of Shakespeare and make some edits. Running at nearly three hours this is a long time to spend with this family, royal or not.
KING CHARLES III raises fascinating questions on family, political power, and the future of the monarchy. It also may make you glad America left all the past, present, and future royal drama behind in 1776.
KING CHARLES III is playing at the Coronado Playhouse through April 22nd. For ticket and performance times please go to www.coronadoplayhouse.com