King Charles III Review - A Fascinating Glimpse into Great Britain's alt future

Despite our American pride in our form of democratic republic, we have a big fascination with royalty.  I admit I got up at four in the morning to watch William and Kate’s wedding some years back, and I cried when Princess Diana died.   Therefore, I was inspired to see King Charles III at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which offers a possible glimpse into the near future when the current Queen Elizabeth of England passes on and her son Charles becomes the new king-to-be.   This production is directed by Gary Griffin.

Thie play, by Mike Bartlett, originally debuted in England a few years ago and also played to audiences in New York.  The cast has changed, and this particular cast includes English actor Robert Bathurst, late of the PBS instant classic Downton Abbey, in the leading role of an indecisive King Charles, who tries to understand his new place in the world.  Surrounded by his wife Camilla, sons William and Henry, and of course Kate, he wants to keep his family with him as he navigates new territory.  

Robert Bathurst as King Charles III

The new King finds he must have weekly meetings with the prime minister, and he also invites the opposition party’s leader for a chat to the chagrin of the prime minister.  When Charles finds there is a vote for a legislation that seems no good for the British people, legislation that he’s supposed to sign off on no questions asked, he begins asking questions.  And he only wants parliament members to listen to their constituents.  When they don’t, he invokes a little-known rule where he throws out the elected officials and ask for new elections.

Robert Bathurst as King Charles III

With the nation in turmoil, he tries to work with his cronies to understand a way ahead.  In the meantime, Kate urges William to consider stepping in, while Harry only wants to get out of the royal picture, especially when he meets a beautiful revolutionary.  Camilla is there as Charles’s conscience, along with his long-time aide and ghostly visits from Diana. 

Jordan Dean and Amanda Drinkall

The climax and finale lead to new beginnings for the country as Charles continues to wonder about his role in the world.  We are certainly drawn to Charles’s torment as we wonder about the dichotomy of monarchy’s role in present-day England.  Like in the play, there is a love-dislike relationship in Great Britain with their royals and the roles they assume. 

Jordan Dean as Prince William and Amanda Drinkall as Kate, with Robert Bathurst, Jonathan Weird and Tyrone Phillips in the background

As King Charles, Robert Bathurst has an excellent grasp into the psyche of a man wondering about his ability to lead a nation in name-only.  He leads with his heart, which ultimately is his undoing.  I liked Bathurst in the role and his nuanced performance carried most of the show.  Camilla is played to perfection by Kate Skinner.  William and Kate are played by Jordan Dean and Amanda Drinkall.  I especially enjoyed the performance of Alec Manley Wilson as Prince Harry, who gives us an idea of the burden of the royal family, especially when always made to be in the sidelines.  His love interest is a fun addition, played by Rae GraySarah Chalcroft glides across the stage, appearing to both Charles and William, in Diana-like gown and crown, offering her guidance, which turns out to be the same guidance to both men and sets the stage for much of their conflict.

Jordan Dean and Sarah Chalcroft

Rae Gray and Alec Manley Wilson

Supporting character Sean Fortunata efficiently plays England’s Prime Minister and the opposition leader Mr. Stevens is played with conniving joy by David Lively

I enjoyed the play overall.  While the plot was a little over the top, the commentary on the royal family and their place in the world made it interesting.  I am not sure I liked that the playwright made Kate almost seem the shrill villain as she encourages William to pursue the crown.  I did like her clothing, so reminiscent of items she been photographed wearing over the years.   


The accents were a little uneven at first but got better as the actors warmed up.  The dialogue was written in blank verse, which lends itself to a formal style reminiscent of Shakespeare.   As always, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s minimalist set decoration helped the action without cluttering the stage.  The costumes were spot-on modern royal wear.  The theater itself was a little warm at first, but the air did kick in later in the first act.  The play ran a bit longer than others I have seen at the venue, which made it impossible to make 10:40 train from Union Station. 

Check out this excellent production of King Charles III, now playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater through January 15, 2017.  For more information about this production, visit here.

Photos courtesy of Liz Lauren.

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