by Lynn on February 18, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

David Schurmann
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann


At the CAA Theatre, (Formerly the Panasonic Theatre), Toronto, Ont.

Written by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Joel Greenberg

Set by John Thompson

Costumes by Denyse Karn

Lighting by Kevin Fraser

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Guy Bannerman

Wade Bogert-O’Brien

Rosemary Dunsmore

Patrick Galligan

Jessica Greenberg

Sam Kalilieh

Jeff Meadows

Gray Powell

Amy Rutherford

David Schurmann

Marcel Stewart

Shannon Taylor

A careful, respectful production with a strong cast. Mike Bartlett has unnecessarily revised/updated his play. Still a fascinating work.

 The Story. Playwright Mike Bartlett notes that King Charles III  is “a future history play.”

The Queen is dead and her son Charles has become King Charles III, but he is not prepared to be just a figurehead. He’s thoughtful and no pushover it seems. And that’s when the trouble starts.

Like every monarch before him Charles meets with his Prime Minister every week for a half hour to be informed of the business of parliament.  The monarch is really a ceremonial figure head who puts his/her signature on documents and laws passed by the government.

But Charles takes this further. He is expected to sign a bill passed by parliament that would restrict the power of the press. Charles won’t do it. His conscience won’t let him.

This leads to a constitutional crisis and serious matters have to be taken in hand.

The Production.  John Thompson set is spare– a wide bank of stairs is centre stage—that gives a sense of size and majesty to the look of the space. That one bank of stairs represents various locations: Buckingham Palace, No. 10 Downing Street, a bar.  Characters enter from the wings and climb up the stairs to speak to either the king or other characters. Kevin Fraser’s moody shafts of light also suggest size to the space.

The whole court enters from the wings, each member holds a glass in which is a lit candle. They proceed across the stage, around the bank of stairs and then stand facing the audience. Sombre. This is Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Charles, played by David Schurmann, with seriousness and a sense of the enormity of the job carries on the idea of duty and purpose established by the late Queen. This King follows his conscience and Schurmann plays this with a sense of weight on his shoulders, but a weight he will carry because he believes he is right.

Director Joel Greenberg is careful with his direction, efficiently staging the piece with simplicity. But I think initially the pace seems sluggish that then quickens as the effects of Charles’ decision begin to gain momentum.  I also think there could have been a bit more attention to detail. I found it odd that Charles’ double-breasted suit does not seem to fit properly, which seems odd since designer Denyse Karn is so accomplished.  When the Prime Minister comes calling, Charles pours tea but doesn’t use a tea strainer suggesting tea bags are used (a no-no) and not loose tea. Small points, but the whole idea of that Royal Family and its procedures is composed of small, but resounding small points.

The acting gives a good sense of who these characters are. Jeff Meadows plays a laid back William but is able to rise to the occasion with determination.

Wade Bogert-O’Brien plays Harry with a combination boyishness and desire to be ‘ordinary’ that works well for this man at odds with his job in that family. And Shannon Taylor is forceful and wily as Catherine.

Neither the writing nor the performances go for caricature.  Mike Barlett has written this play in verse form (not rhyming couplets) and gives the sense that it is Shakespearean in tone. That seems fitting given the size of the political implications.

There is a section in Act II that clearly establishes the balance of crown and state and puts into context the enormity of what Charles has done by taking action and refusing to sign the document:

The monarch can only expect: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn. That’s it. It says nothing about having an opinion.  There are ways to get around this—research indicates the Queen could not influence or express an opinion, but people were never in doubt as to what she thought. So it’s a clever play about British government and that family that clearly illustrates the minutiae of the workings and the shadiness of politics. .

Comment.  Playwright Mike Bartlett has revised the play since it was first done in London in 2014. There is now reference to William and Katherine’s children. Fine. Harry is still depicted in the play as a good-time party-boy irresponsible, flighty. But there is reference to a short-lived relationship with a Hollywood actress named Megan…that didn’t work out. So Harry goes back to his old ways.


That update doesn’t work and is unnecessary if one is really to believe this is ‘a future history play.’ Inputting a reference to a real relationship and twisting it to suggest Harry is irresponsible is a mistake when the reality of Harry is so different from the character in the play and the result weakens the play. Without that update the whole idea of irony speaks louder than this updated miss-step.

Produced by David Mirvish and Studio 180.

Opened: Feb. 15, 2018.

Closes: March 4, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.


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1 Tara Gostling February 18, 2018 at 10:34 pm

I love that you added that comment about Harry, Lynn. I recently saw a play with an oddly out of date Rob Form slam. Regardless of politics it just took all suspension of disbelief away for the rest of the play.