BWW Review: Studio 180's KING CHARLES III is an Underwhelming Think Piece

BWW Review: Studio 180's KING CHARLES III is an Underwhelming Think Piece

In Mike Bartlett's play, Queen Elizabeth II has just died. As fascinating as it may be to imagine the future, Studio 180's production of KING CHARLES III, directed by Joel Greenberg, is a drab view of a very pessimistic future.

The play begins at the funeral of Elizabeth II. Charles (David Schurmann), welcomes the fact that his time has come to ascend to the throne. William (Jeff Meadows) and Kate (Shannon Taylor) have become even more statuesque after years of royal conditioning. Harry (Wade Bogert-O'Brien) is grieving after his recent divorce from Meghan Markle. It all feels very familiar. It feels very real.

Charles is desperate to use his new position to make a mark on the world. He has waited his entire life for the crown - he's not going to be pushed around by politicians and process. Refusing to sign a bill that doesn't meet his personal approval, the Prime Minister (Gray Powell) seeks to have the monarch's power restricted. Raising the question of the monarch's relevance in a society increasingly rejecting tradition.

Other than the performances, this production leaves a lot to be desired. John Thompson's set design consists of simple black platforms in the background, a green raised platform in the centre, and a mixture of cheap, modern furniture that is moved on and off the stage. The MIDI-based soundtrack sounds like a rip off of Hans Zimmer's theme for The Crown. Kevin Fraser's lighting does a great job creating a variety of spaces on the minimalist stage, but I wasn't a fan of a few of the colour schemes, which gave the actors a green hue in certain scenes.

Schurmann took some time to settle into the pacing of his Charles III. It could have also been the fact that time was needed for us to dispel the image of real-life Charles out of our minds. The illusion was shattered in the second half when an actor donned a caricature-style mask of the prince, re-focusing our attention on how different the two men look. But Schurmann's portrayal was compelling. His mark on the script was edgier than I expected - illuminating Bartlett's witty writing with a multi-faceted character.

The portrayal of William and Kate was also shocking. Apparently, Bartlett sees them as extremely cold behind-the-scenes. Driven by power, their lines are almost Shakespearean, like how Kate addresses her husband - "My husband, what say you?" I see where parallels could be drawn between this Kate and Lady Macbeth. It is always refreshing to watch a powerful female character command the stage, but I found Taylor's portrayal very hard to sympathize with. Perhaps it was because I was busy rooting for Charles and Harry, and their quest for independence from the old ways. William and Kate's focused pursuit for the throne seemed to be less based on preserving peace in the UK and more based on manipulation with the goal of attaining power.

In the play, Bogert-O'Brien's grungy Harry is struggling with his position in the family and his place in society post-Meghan Markle. With an older brother hungry for the throne and a father practically salivating over the fact that he is finally King, Harry just wants some distance. In skinny jeans, boots and a leather jacket, this version of Harry sees the death of his grandmother as a way of finally joining the real world. Bogert-O'Brien's committed scenes were some of the most captivating in the two and a half hour play - though the ending given to his character is an enormous letdown. You spend the entire play desperate for Harry to be happy, only to have it all stripped away from you five minutes before the curtain drops.

In a similar dramatic structure, The Crown succeeds on its use of sumptuous costumes, lavish sets, and exceptional cinematography. This production doesn't give you a lot to look at, but the performances are definitely memorable. KING CHARLES III is fascinating in its attempt to imagine the future - but a bland design makes it hard to love.


KING CHARLES III is presented by Studio 180 and runs through March 4, 2018, as part of Mirvish's "Off-Mirvish" Series at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/king-charles-lll

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