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King Charles III: A Future History Play

John Hutton as King Charles III
John Hutton as King Charles III
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
 
For centuries, the British royal family has been a rich source of scandal and satire for pamphleteers, playwrights, and paparazzi despite a history of state censorship, harsh decrees, and libel laws—all of which provide a telling background for Mike Bartlett's biting comedy regarding future events, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor has reigned for 66 years and counting, making her the longest-lived (93 years) and longest-reigning British monarch, as well as the world's longest-serving female head of state, oldest living monarch, longest-reigning current monarch, and the oldest and longest-serving current head of state.

Bartlett's play premiered in London in April, 2014, and here we are, over five years later, with a lot of water under the bridge, and Elizabeth II is still Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. Yet, the play is prescient in many ways.

(Left to right) John Hutton as King Charles III and Josh Innerst as Mr. Evans, Prime Minister
(L to R) John Hutton as King Charles III and
Josh Innerst as Mr. Evans, Prime Minister
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
 
As the story goes, Prince Charles (John Hutton), now King by the laws of succession (though not yet coronated), becomes concerned about a bill that has passed, and which awaits what is normally a perfuctory signature by a ceremonial monarch. However, Charles asks the Prime Minister to have the bill re-written to provide more protections for the press and free speech, which the PM refuses to do. A constitutional crisis ensues, exascerbated by the tabloids, which touches off massive demonstrations throughout the kingdom, including outside of Buckingham Palace. Charles asks that tanks be placed outside, for protection.

Seth Dhonau as Prince Harry and Shunte Lofton as Jess
Seth Dhonau as Prince Harry
and Shunté Lofton as Jess
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
 
Up to this point, political differences drive the action; but all of this is soon compounded by longstanding familial issues (including the death of Diana and Harry's black girfriend), ambitions for power (William and Kate), and striking philosophical differences over the role of the British monarch (Charles versus William and Kate [and the Prime Minister]).

The issues over free speech and freedom of the press couldn't be more timely: earlier this month Londonís Metropolitan Police threatened journalists with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, as if their treatment of Assange wasn't an indication that they are already doing this, and the CIA is invoking Assange and Wikileaks to push for the expansion of an old secrecy law. All of this comes as a response to Wikileaks revealing various crimes previously committed by those who are now prosecuting Assange—after bribing Ecuador, entering its embassy, and dragging him to prison—for doing what journalists do as a matter of course; for example, the New York Times details on Wikileaks releases or, most importantly, their publishing of the Pentagon Papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsburg.

Hutton's gravitas, as the analytical and well-versed King Charles III, packs a punch, in essence making the King the protagonist in this dark comedy, as he argues for press freedoms and "checks and balances." His antagonist, Mr. Evans (Josh Innerst), the Prime Minister, is conciliatory at first, but strong-willed and imperious when Charles refuses to budge—much like the run-of-the-mill puppets who fill the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the federal, state, and local levels, serving the global corporate crime syndicate. Innerst shows us, in a natural and self-assured manner, that Evans is wholly invested in his position, and willing to change the laws of Britain to throttle the press, after the News International phone hacking scandal, as if the corporate state's intelligence services aren't already breaking the law with backdoor keys to virtually all of the citizenry's phones and computers (for example: here and here).

Emily Van Fleet as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Casey Andree as William, Duke of Cambridge
Emily Van Fleet as Catherine,
Duchess of Cambridge (Kate)
and Casey Andree as William,
Duke of Cambridge
Photo: Gabe Koskinen
 
Shakespearean allusions—situational, linguistic, and implied—abound: William (Casey Andree) and Kate (Emily Van Fleet), the Duke of Cambridge and Dutchess of Cornwall, exude "a lean and hungry look...", and "jump the time to come..." given the opportunity (Charles' intransiency) and encouragement from the corporate government's emissaries. Since William and Kate jockey for Charles' abdication, they are in fact supporting a ceremonial monarchy, beholden to corporate interests. Otherwise, if Charles persists in putting the principle of press freedom above tradition, the royal family, such as it is, will be cut off from government support. Andree and Van Fleet have fun bringing the power couple to life, at first all prim and proper, like their public image, and then turning into sharks when they smell blood in the water.

While the outcome of the story (no spoiler here) maintains the present power structure, there is no recognition in the story of what that power structure really consists, because the terms of the deal are set by representatives of "the government," not those pulling the strings from above the scene. In reality, the real Crown—the City of London corporation, which controls the world's key central banks, the International Bar Association, etc., and into which the Queen must ask permission to enter—is the power behind the throne. So, contrary to one of the Prime Minister's digs—that the Windsors presided over the demise of the British Empire—in fact, the empire was not lost, it just changed form, from ostensible control by a monarchy and then a parliament, to a corporation controlled by financiers.

Despite the script's somewhat muddled approach to the actual political, economic, and financial pecking order, the storyline is amusing in the way that the British tabloids are to those who see them as satire, much like we look at The Onion. Two large video monitors remind us of this, highlighting the headlines of Fleet Street's daily hyperboles involving the "constitutional crisis." Stateside, we see the same divisive and distractive yellow journalism, and the same led-by-the-nose mentality of those who take such nonsense seriously; for example, the Mueller Report and #Russiagate, just as we explained two and a half years ago regarding the January 2017 report of the Director of National Intelligence.

As the second son (and perhaps of a different father), the red-headed and adventurous Harry (Seth Dhonau) presents another kind of threat to the continuance of taxpayer-funded royal privilege, when he hooks up with Jess (Shunté Lofton), a politically charged Afro-Anglo art student, much to the chagrin of James Reiss (Coleman Zeigen), Press Secretary to King Charles III. Harry's dissolute lifestyle, and even his motivational turnaround when he meets Jess, including his engagement with her progressive politics, is an anathema to Reiss, an old school conservative. The contrasting worldviews and philosophies provide fodder for some great humor. Dhonau is a crack up as the mercurial Harry; Lofton's sublime blend of passionate advocacy and moral high-ground as Jess eventually reveals Harry for what he is—a conservative at heart. Zeigen's take on Reiss' class prejudices, delivered via an extra-dry stiff-upper-lip, is classic.

The ensemble is terrific as well, to name a few: Leslie O'Carroll's formal, reasoned, and disarmingly honest Mrs. Stevens, Leader of the Opposition, makes a strong case for the playwright's presumption of a two-party system, until she, too, finds herself limiting the king and, thus, defending an unjust law in order to maintain the status quo of the power structure, despite the polls being 50-50 for and against Charles' position; Anastasia Davidson's omni-faceted range gets quadruple duty as: the ghost of Diana (who tells both Charles and William separately that he will be the greatest king [LOL!]), an associate of the Prime Minister upholding the corporate state, a reporter looking for a scoop, and a TV producer in service to the network and its owners; London's glorious multi-culturism is rounded out by three sparkling characterizations from Jihad Milhem, as a sketchy friend of Harry's, a kebab vendor (i.e., a street guru), and as Sir Michael, the Head of the Metropolitan Police (for just a dash of the British Raj, when the rule of the British East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria [who was proclaimed Empress of India, enabling the financiers to use the power of the state to protect their corporate investments]); the marriage of church and state is inscrutably upheld by Sam Sandoe as the speaker of the House of Commons, the Chief of Defense, and the Archbishop of Canterbury; and, Anne Sandoe, as Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, radiates warmth and loyalty as the woman Charles should have married in the first place, were it not for his parents and "tradition."

The Colorado Shakespeare Fesitval's presentation of King Charles III, runs in repertory with Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Romeo and Juliet through August 11th. For tickets: cupresents.org/events.

Bob Bows



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