Review: Jack Charles V the Crown (Canadian Stage Company)

Canadian Stage presents Jack Charles’ powerful show in Toronto as part of Spotlight Australia

I had never hear of Jack Charles before seeing Canadian Stage Company’s production of Jack Charles V. the Crown. Now, I will never forget him. Charles is a 74-year old famous and infamous Australian Aboriginal actor. He is famous for his award-winning film and television career that has spanned over four decades. He is infamous for an almost equally lengthy career of thievery in support of a severe heroin addiction.

Jack Charles V. the Crown is a one man, multimedia performance that tells the moving, tragic, and uplifting story of Charles’ life. Charles was taken from his mother as an infant and is a survivor of Australia’s forced assimilation program – their version of the residential school system.  He grew up in a Salvation Army home for boys where he suffered total isolation from his culture, and experienced sexual abuse. Sound familiar?

It is no small wonder that he turned to drugs and crime. What is miraculous is his journey to come back from that. The piece opens with stills and clips from Charles’ life and acting career, and some particularly gritty footage from a documentary made about him while he was still using.

The performance also featured a live jazz band that accompanied Charles’ storytelling and songs. Charles is an engaging speaker, managing to keep the tone personable and funny despite the strangeness and brutality of his tale. The music did a fine job of creating an atmosphere that was furtive and morose, but also resilient and inspirational.

Charles was sentenced to serve time on 22 separate occasion and ended up spending a total of 20 years incarcerated. A true renaissance man, Charles became a potter while in prison. One of the most arresting and compelling aspects of the show is that Charles makes pottery while having what feels more like an intimate rap session with his audience, rather than a performance.

While on the whole, the inclusion of live music in the performance was evocative and engaging, there were times when the volume of the music made Charles’ powerful words hard to hear or inaudible. This was frustrating and unfortunate because Charles’ words are important, needed, and timely. You don’t want to miss a syllable.

The sound design issues notwithstanding, this is a profoundly personal show that is not to be missed. The piece succeeds at being heavy but not draining, due in large part to Charles’ excellent sense of humour and facility and ability to tell a good joke.

This award-winning play has received international acclaim, and it is fitting that it is being performed here on Turtle Island. By shining a light on Australia’s shameful history of mistreating Indigenous people, he holds up a mirror to one of the saddest chapters of our nation’s past, and it could not have come at a more relevant time.


  • Jack Charles V. the Crown is playing until  August 8, 2017 at Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre, (26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, ON)
  • Show times are April 1, 4, 5, 6, & 8  at 8:00 PM,  April 7 at 7:00 PM, with an additional matinee on April 2 at 1:00 PM
  • Ticket prices range from $35 to $69.
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416.367.8243 or online

Photo of Jack Charles by Bindi Cole