Review: ‘King Charles III’ not a crowning glory

The cast of Pioneer Theatre Company's "King Charles III." Photo Courtesy: Pioneer Theatre Company

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 28, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — I wanted to love Pioneer Theatre Company’s Tony-award nominated “King Charles III” for so many reasons.

The future history piece is written by a playwright I love and has a Utah-based director I greatly admire. Also, I’m English, and devour all things royal with relish, including the recent Netflix series “The Crown.”

The story imagines the British royal family following Queen Elizabeth’s death, as Prince Charles prepares to ascend to the throne. But what do Prince William, Princess Kate and Prince Harry really think about their father’s ascension? “King Charles III” explores the intricacies of modern monarchy and aims to introduce us to the people beneath the crowns.

Mike Bartlett’s plays have won awards; “Love, Love, Love” won Best New Play in the 2011 Theatre Awards UK, and his play “Cock” won an Olivier Award in 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, while director David Ivers is one of two artistic directors of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where he has acted and directed in nearly 50 productions over the course of 20 seasons.

The New York Times called the play a “flat-out brilliant portrait of a monarchy in crisis.” But I just didn’t feel it.

Granted, the production values are simply stunning. The sets, by Gary M. English, and costumes by Alex Jaeger, are imposing, regal and very, very British. The lighting, by David Neville, is dramatic, bold and stark.

And the performances are absolutely competent. John Hutton plays King Charles III, the troubled and haunted new king. Grant Goodman plays Prince William, while Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is portrayed by Samantha Eggers, and Prince Harry by John Ford-Dunker.

The thing I couldn’t get past, and this falls to both the writer and the director, is that I just didn’t care very much about any of the characters, and thus they became two-dimensional. And in a play that runs two-and-a-half hours, that just becomes boring. The characters didn’t feel flesh and blood to me; there were broad brushstrokes where I wanted more detail.

The most interesting relationship was that between Prince Harry and the commoner Jess (Jess Nahikian), who he wants to leave the Royal Family for. But the playwright and the director, I felt, didn’t dig deeply enough into the character of Harry or Jess. I wanted to understand more thoroughly why the former wanted to be a commoner, and why the latter was so special he was willing live a completely different life for her.

Much of the script is in blank verse, primarily in iambic pentameter, which of course was used by Shakespeare in his plays and sonnets. Again, I wanted to love this device. In some of the actors hands; Hutton and Eggers, and PTC vet Max Robinson, it felt so natural one didn’t even notice it. But for other characters that were supposed to be more casual, Nahikian particularly, it detracted from their portrayal and sounded clunky.

The Utah actors in the smaller roles were more successful in their portrayals; there are nice cameos from Roger Dunbar, Tyson Baker, Susanna Florence and Sarah Shippobotham, and all handle the language deftly.

The core subject matter of the play — a new bill for statutory regulation of the press, which has passed the House of Commons and the House of Lords and awaits only Charles’ royal assent to become law — is incredibly timely; as is a piece about the future of the monarchy.

But I was hoping for so much more than was delivered. I guess I’ll just wait for season two of “The Crown” to get my royal fix.

“King Charles III” runs at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, through April 8. Shows are Mondays through Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $25-$44 in advance, and $5 more when purchased on the day of the show.
Kids in grades K through 12 are half-price on Mondays and Tuesdays. For tickets call 801-581-6961 or click here.


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