Starting at $17
Starting at $17
Without my voice, and spirit, I am dust,
This is not what I want, but what I must.
In "King Charles III," playwright Mike Bartlett uses Shakespearean verse to envision a near future where personal privacy, public betrayals and a threat to free press collide in the days following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see the royal family reimagined in the regional premiere of the Critic’s Circle Award-winner and Olivier Award-winner for Best New Play, as well as Tony nominee for Best New Play.
Since 1958, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has delighted audiences with professional theatre on the CU Boulder campus. Complete your Colorado summer with this future history play in the elegant University Theatre.
Performance dates and times:
Thursday, Aug. 8, 7:30 p.m. $17-$51
Friday, Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m. $20-$65
Sunday, Aug. 11, 2 p.m. $33-$83
Discounts for groups, youth, seniors, students, active military, CU employees and season ticket orders. Learn more
More about the show:Read more
The Queen is dead. Long live the King. In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, the royal family adjusts to new roles. Charles grieves his mother and considers the King he will become. Prince Harry blows off steam with friends Spencer and Cootsey and is introduced to a young revolutionary named Jess, who offers him the chance to try on life as a commoner.
Meanwhile, the not-yet-crowned King Charles expresses concern to Prime Minister Evans about a new bill that restricts freedom of the press in exchange for better protections of individual privacy. Despite his family’s history with the paparazzi, Charles is convinced the bill dangerously erodes British freedoms, while Evans argues regulation of the press is long overdue and supported by popular opinion. Mrs. Stevens, leader of the opposition party, suggests that as King, Charles is more than a figurehead, and he can stop the bill by refusing to sign. Charles thinks he glimpses a ghost who whispers he’ll be the greatest king of all.
As Harry and Jess’s relationship develops, an ex-boyfriend blackmails Jess with compromising photos. She requests help from the royal family’s press secretary, James Reiss, who suggests leaving Harry is the best way to protect them both.
The stalemate between Charles and Parliament continues. William and Kate worry that Charles is more interested in philosophy than public relations, as unrest grows throughout the country. Prime Minister Evans introduces legislation that would substantially weaken the monarchy. Concerned about the impact on their children, Kate urges William to take a more active role; William insists on supporting his father, the King. But late at night, a ghost whispers to William that he’ll be the greatest king of all.
With the stability of the nation and the monarchy itself at stake, each member of the royal family must make drastic choices to achieve their version of the ideal Britain.
—Heidi Schmidt, Dramaturg
I’m thrilled that CSF is producing this fantastic contemporary verse play. Shakespeare’s influence is evident on every page; the play is written in blank verse with a five-act structure and is full of nods to Shakespearean plays and characters, including echoes of King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet and Henry V.
Perhaps its most Shakespearean characteristic is that, while it’s a British play about British people and British politics, it transcends its historical moment and offers questions about personal, public and national identity that resonate with a much wider audience.
In this self-described “future history play,” tradition and progress collide, as its characters grapple with problems both old and new: the timeless complexities of human nature and time-specific issues surrounding 21st-century technology. Our production design explores this collision, presenting a traditional backdrop dotted with screens and portraits that serve as windows to both worlds, classical and modern. Charles is surrounded on all sides by imposing figures from England’s history and a near-constant feed of information from today’s world, pulling him in different directions.
On the face of it, there’s some distance between this play and an American audience, but that provides the space for us to make our own connections, to find ourselves in it. King Charles III may be about British government and the monarchy, but it’s also about a desire for integrity in politics, our fascination with the private lives of public personas, and beloved national traditions facing extinction in the modern world. In light of that, this play doesn’t feel an ocean apart at all.
—Kevin Rich, Director
“What’s past is prologue”
History plays were extremely popular at the box office in the 1590s and dominated the first decade of Shakespeare’s career, before he moved on to the major tragedies. In King Charles III, a “future history play,” playwright Mike Bartlett borrows the general form of a Shakespearean history. But what does that mean, beyond naming it for a king (usually named Richard or Henry) and writing it in iambic pentameter? The obvious starting point is that it represents history, specifcally English history (which is why Julius Caesar is classified as tragedy, not history, despite its focus on historical events). History plays are not literal reenactments, however. Shakespeare took liberties with factual history, rearranging the order of events or compressing timelines for dramatic efficiency. He also created composite characters or invented them outright in order to further the story. Shakespeare’s histories are more “based on a true story” than documentary. Likewise, Bartlett’s fictionalized future (as he imagined it in 2014) diverges a bit from royal reality of 2019.
Shakespeare’s history plays centered on the monarchy as the center of power, the limits of exercising royal prerogative, and on the impact of a monarch’s actions on England as a whole and on future Brits. Characters of every social class populate the plays, and the Elizabethans in the audience were living with the inherited consequence of the royals depicted.
Royals in these plays were deposed, killed and plunged into civil war—high stakes for all. Shakespeare’s histories are deeply invested in what characteristics and choices make for good kings, exceptional kings, and exceptionally bad kings. Today’s royals, the Windsors, are rarely seen as having the same political impact as their forebears. It’s easy to dismiss them as tabloid fodder whose duties are primarily ceremonial, but Elizabeth II actually holds many of the same rights as Elizabeth I, who reigned in Shakespeare’s day. No bill passed by Parliament can become law without the Queen signing off on it, for example. Tradition of the last few centuries, however, dictates that the monarch refrain from using those rights. It’s been 300 years since an English monarch refused to sign a bill passed by Parliament.
Which brings us back to the future, or at least the present. Rather than rely on clichés of history repeating itself for those who fail to learn from it, I’ll defer to Shakespeare’s wisdom about the predictive value of history, from Henry VI, part 2:
There is a history in all men’s lives
The which observed, a man may prophesy
With a near aim, of the main chance of things
As yet not come to life.
—Heidi Schmidt, Dramaturg
Why this play? Why here and now?
CU PresentsRead the full review - Why this play? Why here and now?
What makes a history play? A fusion of past, present and the prince’s future in ‘King Charles III’
CU PresentsRead the full review - What makes a history play? A fusion of past, present and the prince’s future in ‘King Charles III’
The Queen Is Dead, but the King Is Fumbling in 'Charles III'
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Colorado Shakespeare Festival Takes on the British Monarchy
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Theatre Review: ‘King Charles III: A Future History Play’
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