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Theatre & Performance Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and the new play that is tone deaf to diversity

Truth is not only stranger than fiction – it's increasingly more colourful as well.

We got an almost too perfect illustration of that on Monday, when Prince Harry and a new girlfriend were unveiled in public twice in Toronto – in real life; and also as characters in an upcoming play.

As everyone on the planet surely knows by now, Harry and the Suits actress and Toronto resident Meghan Markle made their first official appearance together as a couple that day at the Invictus Games.

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I'm not one of those people automatically fascinated by the love lives of the Royals – but even I can't deny that the fifth in line to the throne's courtship of Markle is a romance that has powerful symbolic resonance at a time when racial tensions and white nationalism are on the rise.

Pictures, circulated widely, of the white prince from the House of Windsor holding hands with an American woman who is biracial are positive images that the world really needs to see at this moment.

They're also what fictional stories about the Royals have to compete with these days. Coincidentally, also on Monday in Toronto, casting was officially announced for a new stage production about the House of Windsor: King Charles III, which Studio 180 will produce as part of Mirvish Productions' "off-Mirvish" season in February.

This 2014 "future history" play by British playwright Mike Bartlett imagines what might happen after the Queen dies and her son, the Prince of Wales, ascends to the throne.

Its secondary plot concerns a fictional future version of Harry – who, while grieving for his grandmother, begins a romance with a commoner and republican named Jess Edwards.

The cast Studio 180 and Mirvish announced for their production is an accomplished one that includes actors well known from the Stratford and Shaw Festival.

But, as I scrolled through their pictures, I couldn't help but notice that not only were the actors playing Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William, Kate Middleton and Harry all white, so was the one playing his (fictional) girlfriend.

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Of course, Meghan Markle and Jess Edwards are not the same person – and one came on the scene only after the other was invented.

But juxtaposed with the real-life images of Harry and his girlfriend that kept popping up on my computer screen, the headshots of the theatrical Prince Harry and his girlfriend couldn't help but strike me as a real failure of the theatrical imagination.

It's pretty hard to put a Royal Family on stage that is less diverse than the actual one – but Studio 180 and Mirvish plan to do just that in February.

This isn't the first time that a production of King Charles III has demonstrated how artists who are daring and creative with the style and content of plays can still be quite boring, conventional and even backward when it comes to race.

Bartlett's play – which is written in faux-Shakespearean verse and imagines the future king provoking a constitutional crisis by refusing to give royal assent to a bill he disagrees with – has played on the West End and Broadway where critics called it "bold" and "audacious."

But even when I saw the play in New York in 2015 in the original production directed by Rupert Goold, I was less than convinced that this was entirely the case.

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I happened to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop history musical Hamilton in the same week – and it was hard not to compare and contrast Miranda's inclusive, genuinely bold vision of the American past with Bartlett and Goold's clever and yet very white vision of the future. Indeed, the only character of colour who had any sort of presence was a kebab vendor that Harry encountered on a night on the town.

It also seemed odd to me that though King Charles III was written like a Shakespearean history play and everyone spoke verse, the original production chose a photorealistic approach to casting rather than the diverse approach that generally rules the roost in Shakespeare from Stratford, Ont., to Stratford-upon-Avon – and, at the time, I hoped that future productions in Canada might make the play look less like a trip to the wax museum.

Because the beauty of theatre, of course, is that a play doesn't remain static – and directors can take an old script in new directions that make it seem less out of date.

Indeed, a production of King Charles III opening at the Arts Club in Vancouver next month has been cast in a way that makes Bartlett's imagined future better reflect the way we might imagine the future now – just three years on.

Director Kevin Bennett has decided to have white actors play the Royals, but has also cast actors of colour as the characters who are outsiders to consciously contrast with the insular white world of the House of Windsor. For instance, Jess Edwards, the girlfriend of Harry whose race is never explicitly stated in the script, will be played by Asian-Canadian actress Agnes Tong.

Bennett has also had the great idea of casting Christine Willes as the leader of the opposition in the British parliament to give the play an extra strong female character – transforming Mr. Stevens in the original script into Mrs. Stevens.

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I hadn't really thought about how Bartlett rather conventionally imagined a future where only men were leading political parties in Britain, but it's true – his "bold" play about the future didn't envision a Theresa May, let alone a Meghan Markle.

To be fair to both Goold and Bartlett, when they revisited King Charles III for BBC television this year, they diversified the cast in terms of race and gender in ways similar to Bennett. But that film only makes Studio 180's production seem even more retrograde.

Why did Joel Greenberg, artistic director of the company, decide to go white for the Royals and Prince Harry's girlfriend? When I spoke to him this week, he told me that was not his specific intention – and that he actually cast his Toronto production through a "colour-blind" audition process.

That is to say, Greenberg considered actors of any colour for any of the parts – and the ones he found most suited for the lead roles just happened to be white. (There are two actors of colour in his cast playing a variety of smaller roles.) "It's just the way the casting worked out," he said.

It's hard to argue with that – but then it's also hard to ignore that the actress who will be playing Harry's girlfriend in Greenberg's production happens to be his daughter, actress Jessica Greenberg.

Both Greenbergs are part of the "core artistic team" of Studio 180 – and there's a long history of theatrical dynasties and also creating work for yourself to act in.

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However, the younger Greenberg's casting is a clear demonstration that nobody really casts a show "blind" – and it's up to directors to decide if they want to make having the world on stage be more like the world off stage a priority.

But there's also the matter that consciously thinking about race in theatre rather than pretending to be blind to it leads to more interesting, complex, engaging work. When you accidentally imagine a future that is less colourful than the actual present – in all sense of the word "colourful" – it only makes it seem like you're not really imagining the future all that well.

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