For even a modest anglophile, the way Mike Bartlett’s “King Charles III” pairs intrigue with British monarchy, political drama and family tensions in Pioneer Theatre Company’s current production is sure to be engaging. The performance manages to combine the honorable duty of public figures with the intimacies of shared grief, masterfully directed by David Ivers, for a look at Britain’s most famed nobility.
Opening with the death of Britain’s current Queen Elizabeth II, “King Charles III” chronicles possible political and personal journeys of the royals. Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth II, and the man Bartlett gave the position of next ruler for this hypothetical production, attempts to find his footing as the next ruler, particularly in relation to his role in the creation of laws. He hopes to find support in the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, but they both seem to have their own political agendas at heart. Meanwhile, his sons William and Harry face their own struggles in determining their place in the monarchy. William judges whether his father’s rule is best for the country, and Harry is quickly falling in love with the apparently unsuitable Jess. On the other hand, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, observes the situation like a player hovering over a chessboard preparing her next move.
Ultimately, “King Charles III” asks the audience to judge how much power one person commands in government and whether relationships reign more important than duty.
John Hutton’s performance as King Charles III is riveting throughout the narrative as he alternates between a confident and firm ruler and a slightly doubtful and concerned father. John Ford-Dunker and Grant Goodman portray the Princes Harry and William respectively, each persuasively retreating to opposite responses to the Queen’s death. Samantha Eggers brings an energy reminiscent of Lady Macbeth to her performance of Catherine, which oscillates between a gentle charm and hardened manipulation. As the play jumps from Parliament to the palace to the streets of London, the ensemble also manages to keep the audience engaged and abreast of the moving action.
David Ivers has expertly crafted the world of the play in a way that connects the public personalities we’re familiar with and the sweeping, epic nature of Mike Bartlett’s script. His attention to detail ensures that even the smallest moments are impactful. Everything from a remote-controlled car to the act of signing a document is laced with meaning. The music used in the production, composed by Gregg Coffin and designed by Joshua C. Hight, uses contemporary and traditional instrumentation to add depth to the story. For those who may be a little rusty on the inner workings of British politics, dramaturg Isabel Smith-Bernstein’s program note comes in handy to understand the more nuanced action of the play.
“King Charles III” is a successful and grand exploration of power, politics and family. The production runs at Pioneer Theatre through April 8, with tickets available either at the Pioneer box office or online at their website. Thanks to the ArtsPass, students can purchase tickets for half price in advance, or for $5 one hour before curtain with their UCards.