The Cardinal Stage Company is presenting Mike Bartlett’s clever, imaginative and thought provoking King Charles III upstairs at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium. Set designer Mark Smith’s slightly raised stage splits the room with audience on either side for an imaginative production by director Randy White.
During the golden age of Elizabeth the first, Shakespeare wrote and rewrote the English history of Kings and Queens of the past. Today in the considerably less golden age of Elizabeth the second, Mike Bartlett takes the Shakespearean model for a neatly realized drama of a possible future.
Queen Elizabeth has died, her son Charles is next in line after a life that actor Charles Stransky warmly notes has been “a lingering for the royal prerogative.”
Although he won’t be crowned for three months meetings with the prime minister begin and there’s a problem. Gerard Pauwels as the starchy PM has a bill that limits the freedom of the press based on the fears of “the lasting wounds that the unhampered press may inflict.” Although Charles describes the leader of the opposition party played by Mike Price as having a “politician’s tongue in a weasel’s mouth” he also meets with him.
Both the pm and the opposition leader assume that Charles will simply sign the bill, but the king to be take a moral position and can’t bring himself to put his name to the legislation. In a moving speech he observes that if he’s only a name then the prerogative of this name must have some separate power. The last time this prerogative was invoked was in 1704 with Queen Ann. In a country that without a constitution, England depends on tradition to hold it to account. There’s a crises.
Meanwhile William’s youngest son Prince Harry, Curtis Edward Jackson in an echo of Prince Hal from Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1 is out and about off palace grounds with his buddies at the local night spots. The attractive young working class art student, Jess played by Erica Bittner isn’t quite a Falstaff, but she does lead and encourage Harry to expand his horizons.
Also we meet older son Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton. Reid Henderson’s William is a bit of a milk toast with more meekness than the engaging Clare Cooney’s Kate would like to see. She’s far from being a Lady Macbeth, but one does think about the comparison.
In a history making move, in part encouraged by the “weasel mouthed” opposition leader, Charles in a neatly staged scene with very vocal Commoners joining the audience dissolves parliament. Chaos ensues and an increasingly isolated Charles’s weak alternation of heavy handed crackdowns and simply ignoring the demonstrations fails. In one of playwright Bartlett’s many nods to Elizabethan models there’s a wild opposition dance by V for Vendetta masked figures. A group that, curiously include both Prince Harry and his girlfriend Jess. In another nod, the ghost of Diana appears to both Charles and William with the message that each will be a great king.
As King Charles III moves on Charles’ clinging to his notion of principle and retreat into earlier histories seems less and less viable. Kate prevails on Prince William to “royal up” and in a televised speech designed to calm the country, William takes the podium and declares that he and Kate will reign as Charles steps down.
It’s a bitter moment as Charles realizes the depth of the deception and perhaps also the rightness of it. In another bitter moment, son Harry who’d been talking of life outside the palace as a commoner with Jess, finds the tug of royalty too powerful to abandon.
The Cardinal Stage Company and their fine cast do an excellent job with the play. The Iambic pentameter for the royals and prose for the commoners works nicely. The monologues are neatly finessed from the formal moments to the conversational ones. Of the ensemble I especially enjoyed Jack O’Hara as the castle on and off loyalist insider and Scott Van Wye as the gyro seller who gives Prince Harry somethings to think about of what makes England, England.
The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of Mike Bartlett’s King Charles at the Ivy Tech John Waldron arts Center Auditorium plays through …
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.