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King Charles III cast

King Charles III, the latest Arts Club Theatre Company production at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, is a play by Mike Bartlett about the accession and reign of Prince Charles following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Premiering in London in 2014, King Charles III won the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of 2014, and in 2015 an Olivier Award as Best New Play. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first staging of this play in Canada.

Ted Cole, Gwynyth Walsh
[Ted Cole, Gwynyth Walsh]

Eager to exercise his royal duties, Charles (Ted Cole) clashes almost immediately with Prime Minister Evans (Simon Webb) over a new bill for the statutory regulation of the press. Charles refuses to give royal assent unless Parliament reconsiders what effects the bill will have on freedom of speech.

Convincingly played by Mr. Cole, Charles is looking to find actual meaning in the effectively meaningless job he’s been raised for, but is a weak if dignified character. His refusal to sign the bill into law pits him against his Prime Minister, Parliament, and members of his family, and ultimately leads to his undoing.

King Charles III is written in blank verse (iambic pentameter), which deliberately links Mr. Bartlett’s drama to the tradition of the Shakespeare’s historic plays. The real figures of the royal family easily fit into this Shakespearian intrigue, even the suggestion that Prince Harry (Charlie Gallant) might be what the Bard would have called a bastard.

Lauren Bowler
[Lauren Bowler]

The late Princess Diana (Lauren Bowler) appears as a prophesying ghost, along with her successor Camilla (Gwynyth Walsh) and royal couple William (Oliver Rice) and Kate (Katherine Gauthier), called “the king and queen of column inches”.

In addition to the language, Kevin McAllister’s set design gives the play a feel of a classic Shakespearian drama.

The sparse set contains bare walls, a central gate representing a medieval castle, and a red carpet that doubles as the Union Jack. It’s complimented by Darren Boquist’s lighting and Ben Elliott’s sound effects which simulate the sounds of modern London. 

Director Kevin Bennett organizes an excellent cast of 12 actors to cover all of the main roles plus a variety of minor parts, as well as the assembled crowd and gathered reporters. He uses an interesting technique: instead of a player coming from behind the stage, the actors are assembled against the castle wall and come to life when it’s their turn to be on stage. 

Charlie Gallant, Agnes Tong, Chris Cochrane, Shekhar Paleja
[Charlie Gallant, Agne Tongs, Chris Cochrane, Shekhar Paleja]

Throughout the play, Prince Charles, Prince William, Duchess Kate and Prince Harry make asides to the audience about their roles in the royal family, the institution of monarchy, and the legacy they’ll be leaving for future generations.

All must choose how they wish to see the traditions of the monarchy continued in the British Isles and then convince the others that their course of action is the best.

Both Charles and Prince William have seen the ghost of Princess Diana, promising each man that he will become “the greatest king of all”. And the Duchess of Cambridge reveals a steely interior life quite different from the benign exterior projected by the real Kate Middleton. She is not satisfied to be “a plastic doll,… a male-created bland and standard wife whose only job is prettying the prince” and to “produce an heir-and spare.”

Oliver Rice, Katherine Gauthier
[Oliver Rice, Katherine Gauthier]

As the country descends into riots and unrest, a subplot also emerges about a romance between Prince Harry and an ordinary London student, as well as his conflict between his duty as prince and his longing to be an ordinary citizen.

“A sovereign that reigns but does not rule” can be a difficult concept to understand. King Charles III projects what might happen if the monarch decided to exercise formal powers to withhold royal assent to legislation and to dissolve parliament, within a political convention that the monarchy is essentially ceremonial.

Agnes Tong, Charlie Gallant, Ted Cole
[Agnes Tong, Charlie Gallant, Ted Cole]

In theory, assent can be withheld (vetoing the bill), but since the creation of the United Kingdom in 1707 this has never happened.

In the end it is left to a kebab vendor (Shekhar Paleja) who, in an amusing interaction with Prince Harry, gives the clearest illustration of what Queen Elizabeth and her long reign meant to Britain; and by extension both the enduring power of Britain’s powerless monarchy and its enduring place in British life.

King Charles III is a provocative and well-written work from a writer who has already, at age 37, built an impressive resume.

Simon Webb, Christine Willes
[Simon Webb, Christine Willes]

With this play, the Arts Club Theatre continues its tradition of presenting quality productions. King Charles III is worth checking out by anyone with any interest in the ongoing place of royalty in our constitutional framework. And at this time it is anyone’s guess how events will unfold in the United Kingdom after Queen Elizabeth passes on, indeed even whether or not, post-Brexit, the UK will survive intact.

Directed by Kevin Bennett, King Charles III continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through November 19.

Photos by David Cooper.

About Our Contributor Michael Pigeon

Michael Pigeon

Michael is a long-time Vancouver resident who’s recently returned home after living abroad for over a decade. Michael enjoys reconnecting with Canadian culture through the Greater Vancouver theatre scene and being retired in a city that offers so many opportunities to live a healthy, engaged lifestyle.

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