Meet King Charles III Playwright Mike Bartlett: Part One

By Simon Hodgson

Mike Bartlett, playwright of King Charles III, which opens at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater on September 14, is known for constantly playing with form.

His plays Cock and Bull are pieces written for four actors. They are nasty, brutish, and short—crucibles of emotional entanglement, rage, and helplessness. Earthquakes in London, Bartlett’s epic exploration of climate change, features a running time of more than three hours, a scope of five centuries, and a cast of more than 15. King Charles III, meanwhile, takes on the trappings of Elizabethan theater and Shakespearean language to investigate the relationship the British people have with the royal family.

King Charles III Playwright Mike Bartlett.
When asked what makes a Mike Bartlett play so powerful, King Charles III director David Muse says, “Summing up Mike Bartlett’s work is tricky because the form that his plays take are so incredibly varied. In fact, that’s one of the defining characteristics of his work.”

“One of my criteria in choosing projects,” says Bartlett, “is to do something completely new and surprising that keeps my interest and hopefully keeps the interest of an audience. Audiences are very sophisticated now, [which comes] from watching dramatic narratives on television and in theater. They’re used to form changing all the time in the drama, the characters, even the theater space itself.”

From climate change to corporate bullying, from fathers’ rights to modern masculinity, Bartlett addresses challenging contemporary subjects that are resolutely political. “Try being a writer without being political,” he says wryly. “You couldn’t do it. Politics infuses every generation. Every play I write is political by its nature. The only thing I’ve tried to avoid doing is to fix myself in a particular political place. That’s not why people go to plays, to hear me talk about my own politics. But I would struggle to write a play that didn’t feature money, society, and politics, because life always contains those things.”

King Charles III opens on September 14 and runs through October 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Read more about playwright Mike Bartlett, along with other articles about the historical and cultural context of this play, in Words On Plays, arriving soon!

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