'Death of Kings' presented by UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance | Photo: Jeff Liang

Death of Kings, produced by Naked Shakes, a program under the umbrella of the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance, is an adaptation of several of Shakespeare’s works depicting the royal English lineage (also referred to as “the history plays”). A stylized intertwining of words and storylines from the “Henry” plays and the “Richard” plays, Death of Kings offers a fascinating abridged account of the monarchs, the battles, the insurgencies, and the romances of England in the Middle Ages. 

Early words in the play, taken directly from Richard II, offer a pithy scaffolding for what’s to come: “Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings: how some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghost they have deposed.” Dressed down and highly choreographed, with an eclectic live-music soundscape (provided by James Connelly), Death of Kings gives narrative context around Shakespeare’s version of England’s bloody past.

Adapted and directed by department of Theater/Dance chair Irwin Appel, the production follows in the tradition of Naked Shakes, in which shows are performed with the bare minimum of sets, costumes, and props to focus audience attention on the language of the plays without distraction. Originally produced by Naked Shakes (in a previous iteration) in 2016 (as two full-length plays), Death of Kings has been retooled into one two-hour production full of the drama, comedy, and catharsis of Shakespeare’s work.

Death of Kings is currently traveling abroad and is bringing 13 actors and three stage managers to its performance on the coveted closing-night slot of the Verona Shakespeare Fringe Festival in Verona, Italy. This year’s festival lineup includes productions by and inspired by Shakespeare, presented by companies across Europe and the United States. If you missed Death of Kings, Naked Shakes will remount the production at UCSB in September. Watch the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance website for more information.


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