REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

King Charles III

A Future History Play.charles09

By Mike Bartlett.

Directed by Gary Gtiffin.

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Interesting ‘could happen’ future history features many excellent performances.

British playwright Mike Bartlett’s very British comedy-drama, King Charles III,  is both a ‘could happen’ future history and a satire of the British monarchy. This compelling play appeals more to the English than to American audience sensibilities.  Bartlett imitates Shakespeare’s language with blank verse and rhymed couplets in  contemporary words. He finds ways  to match his characters as classic Shakespearean players. Written in 2014 before major events in England (and the current US election) King Charles III opens with the death of Queen Elizabeth II after a more than 60 year reign.


Prince Charles ascends to the throne after more than a 50 year wait ( the longest wait in British history). He is the stiff, cold and officious personality frustrated by his long wait for power. Playwright Barlett moves from truth to tragedy as he uses ‘what if’ to depict his players.

Robert Bathurst (from Downton Abbey fame) is Charles III. Although a tad young to play Prince Charles (who is 68 years old at this writing), Robert Bathurst is the stuffy, monarchist determined to be a great king by asserting his provocative act of conscience by refusing to sign off on an act of Parliament.


When the Prime Minister Tristan Evans (the terrific Sean Fortunato) confronts Charles over a bill to restrict freedom of the press, Charles’ refusal to rubber stamp the bill sending England into a political crisis pitting the elected  by the people Parliament  against the divine right monarchy.

This Shakespearean-inspired play presents actual folks such as Camilla (Kare Skinner), Charles current spouse; Prince William (Jordan Dean) next inline to the throne; Kate Middleton (the politically ambitious wife to William); Prince Harry (the red head Alec Manley Wilson) who desires to be a free-spirit commoner in love with a republican commoner Jess Edwards (the assertive Rae Gray). Jonathan Weir is the press secretary to the King with Jeff Parker as the butler  and Grant Niezgodski  as head of Royal Security.

David Lively plays the leader of the Parliament’s opposition as together with the Prime Minister, the Members of Parliament plot to get the King to do the traditionally formality and sign passed bills into to law. Charles asserts his right to dissolve Parliament leaving the country in political crisis.


Kate Middleton gets Prince William to intervene to solve the crisis by defying Charles while Harry only wants his father to let him live outside the constraints of the Royal family. Filled with smart British humor, rousing soliloquies and clever rhymed couplets, Bartlett’s evoked the Shakespeare model to  his future history comic-drama. The anachronism of the monarchy is pitted against the elected voice of the people. Which tradition will win or is there a way for both to survive? See this engrossing play to find out.

In a true Chicago Shakespeare tradition, King Charles III reminds us of the skilled productions of The Bard’s plays in that this work has fine actors, a well-written script and a timely plot that reflects the “it could happen’ trend in both British and American politics. Plus King Charles III is a worthy play.


Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: November 16, 2016.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout the King Charles III page at

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, Chicago, IL, call312-595-5600,, tickets $68-$78, running time is 2hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through January 15, 2017.