“King Charles III” by Mike Bartlett, presented by Burning Coal Theatre Company
Queen Elizabeth II has just died and Prince Charles is now king. Parliament passes a bill severely limiting the freedom of the press, which Charles morally opposes. The king traditionally signs bills to make them law, but Charles refuses, breaking with the monarchy’s politically neutral role. His wife, children and allies urge him to follow form amid calls for his abdication.
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The British monarchy’s ongoing battle to maintain itself is set by Mike Bartlett as a modern Shakespearean tale with parallels to Macbeth and Hamlet. The dialog is in blank verse, using everyday language but echoing Shakespeare’s sentence structure enough to tickle the ear and provide striking utterances. Bartlett finds humor and pathos in the royals’ private lives while posing big questions about governmental abuses of power.
Points for production
Burning Coal brings its considerable resources to one of its best recent productions. Director Karen O’Brien choreographs 14 cast members with stylish precision, vividly turning Elizabeth Newton’s royal blue thrust platform into palaces, cathedrals and street corners, aided by Christopher Popowich’s mood-setting lighting and Bonnie Raddatz’s character-defining costumes.
Jocelyn Pook’s music from the London production gives the proceedings grandeur, with impressive choral performances from the cast under Julie Oliver’s musical direction.
Performances to watch
Randolph Curtis Rand rightly dominates with his gripping portrait of Charles emerging as a man and king to be reckoned with. Lucius Robinson astutely projects Prince William’s pleas for normalcy and his decision to enter the escalating fray. Simon Kaplan’s officious James, Charles’ press secretary, supplies much of the humor with his snooty putdowns. Ben Apple’s Prince Harry is moving in his efforts to reject his status after falling for Mya Ison’s intriguing anti-royalist, Jess.
The other actors lack the leads’ precise diction and character flair, but all make fine ensemble members. The hollow stage platform echoes every footstep in this busy staging. The lengthy script has many riveting scenes but also redundancies that sometimes reduce momentum.
Highly recommended for the script’s themes, the lead actors’ talents and the satisfying collaborative design.
What: “King Charles III”
Where: Burning Coal Theatre, 224 Polk St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. 26-28; 2 p.m. Apr. 29
Info: 919-834-4001 or burningcoal.org