King Charles III: British accents in theatre

Julia Robbins, Staff Writer

Imagine having a robin’s egg resting on your tongue; that’s what the actors in the winter play, King Charles III, have been practicing for weeks. During four of their rehearsals, dialect coach Kate Villanova helped the actors prepare for their roles as British people, and one piece of advice she gave was pretending to have a bird’s egg in their mouths.

With the help of Villanova, all of the students in the play learned the specific type of British accent that fits the socioeconomic status of their character. There are three main types of accents used in the play: Received Pronunciation (RP) which is used by royals and upper-class Britons; standard British, which is semi-formal; and pop-London which is the most casual of the three.

“They’re [playing] members of the royal family and I thought it would be strange if we didn’t at least try to use a British dialect,” Director Benjamin Posner said. “I thought dialect would be a great way for them to access their characters.”

The purpose of using accents is to transport the actors to a different place- one where there is a King, a Parliament, and an overall different culture than America, dramaturg Isaac Brooks said. Teaching the actors how British people speak made the actors more engaged and thoughtful, he said.

“A lot of people went from not actually knowing how to use an accent at all, to being able to use it very well,” actor Ben Rosenbaum (12) said. The majority of actors could already speak with a basic accent and what they learned during rehearsals just helped polish their inflection and make their speaking more realistic, he said.

“It definitely helps us get into a different character,” actor Dylan Chin (11) said. “Having the accent is a costume piece of sorts that puts us in character, much like a crown the King would wear.”

To develop their accents, actors employed a variety of methods: practicing saying sentences with a lot of “oh” sounds and vowels, watching British speakers’ face and jaw movements,

and viewing British television and movies.

Actress Bebe Steel (12) watched the show ‘the Good Place’ because an actor in the show has a RP accent, much like her character in the play, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

“A couple of months later, I’m amazed at how some have really taken to it,” Brooks said.

Through the help of the accents, the audience will feel closer to the world of England’s politics and culture, Brooks said. The accents are especially important in this regard because the set is very minimalistic, he said.

While the accents helped the actors feel more connected to their part, and hopefully draw the audience members into the story, several obstacles arose due to the use of accents.

Unlike in the other plays that Posner directed, in King Charles III, he decided that the actors need to use microphones so that their accents don’t get in the way of vocal projection, he said.

“The other difficult thing is not focusing too much on the accent because then your acting can become less natural and more static because you’re focusing so much on the words,” Rosenbaum said. “But getting it into our bodies and getting it into our systems early on with the dialect coach was really, really helpful.”