King Charles III puts a fresh, modern spin on bard Shakespeare

Sasha Vassilyeva, co-opinions editor

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An auditorium quiet enough to hear a pin drop, dimmed lights, a nearly bare stage with just a regal casket and the Union Jack hanging from the ceiling. Three men in military uniforms followed by two women wearing all black stand behind the casket quietly, eyes on the floor. The Queen is dead. What now?

King Charles III, written by Mark Bartlett, speculates life in the United Kingdom upon the death of the beloved Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of her son, Prince Charles of Wales. At a time where anything is possible (as seen in recent events),  the future history play, directed by Gary Griffin, gives a witty, comedic look into a nearly unimaginable scenario.

Before formal coronation, Prince – ahem – King Charles, portrayed by Robert Bathurst (British actor best known for his role on Downton Abbey), must jump right into his royal duties, tasked with signing a bill that restricts freedom of the press. And though the bill has been passed in both houses of Parliament, Charles refuses to sign it, which quickly sends the British government into political chaos.

Throughout the play, relationships are put to the test, characters manipulating and betraying each other, struggling to find the perfect balance between politics and personal lives. Prince William (Jordan Dean) and his wife, Kate (Amanda Drinkall), urge Charles to rethink his decision about the bill. When they realize all is lost, Kate convinces her husband that the only way to save the monarch is for them to rule themselves, putting a modern twist on Lord and Lady Macbeth’s relationship.

One of my favorite things about this play was its Shakespeare-inspired language. Through the use of stirring soliloquies and clever couplets, Bartlett creates a modern adaptation of classic Shakespeare, creating a script that is easy to follow, understand and keeps audience members engaged and wanting to hear more.

A key element of this play was the simplicity of the set designed by Scott Davis. Davis’s decision to minimize the use of complicated sets greatly added to the feel of betrayal and crisis portrayed throughout the play. However, this didn’t take away from any humorous moments and rather allowed them to be more personal as actors were never upstaged by the scenery.

Another fundamental component was its location at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Griffin’s admirable stage production. The use of the thrust stage (a stage that extends into the auditorium and is surrounded by the audience from three sides) and the actors’ use of the theatre aisles for entrances and exits made the play sincere as rousing monologues were directed toward audience members.

If you had seen this play even a year ago, this situation might have seemed impossible. But with current events like Brexit and the results of the presidential election still causing stirrups and controversies among the people, this 2014 play remains relevant and relatable.

Perfectly blending earnestness with satire and tragedy with comedy, King Charles III is the ideal version of a present-day Shakespeare. The lively plot, dynamic characters and superb stage production created a captivating, must-see performance that kept audience members entranced. At a time when anything is possible, King Charles III reminds us of the delicate nature of the future with its hilarious, but resonant, “what if” scenario.

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