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King Charles III

Mike Bartlett’s wonderfully imaginative “future history play” is the fourth West End transfer for the Almeida Theatre inside a year. Its artistic director, Rupert Goold, is clearly on a roll. But will this story about what happens when Prince Charles inherits the throne from our present queen touch a chord with audiences?

Although this scarcely matters, the plot is a touch improbable: the minute that Charles III becomes monarch he picks a fight with his prime minister when he refuses to give royal assent to a parliamentary bill that curtails press freedom. As this constitutional crisis intensifies, what side will the next generation, William and Kate, take?

While the ghost of Princess Diana haunts Buckingham Palace, Prince Harry, in a subplot, meets Jess, an anarchist art student, and he has to choose between love and duty. Yes, it’s a Shakespearean situation that carries conscious echoes of Hamlet and Macbeth, as well as of the history plays – uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

On a West End stage, the effect of Bartlett’s blank verse is more resonant than ever, and with the Scottish referendum and Kate’s pregnancy in the news, the relevance of the play is greater than ever. Compared with the original production, this staging is faster, funnier and more exciting.

Goold’s direction is excellent, and Tom Scutt’s set artfully mimics the back wall of the Almeida while Jocelyn Pook’s music makes a fine contribution to the overall effect. But most important are the actors, who all paint compellingly impressionistic pictures of the people they represent. Tim Pigott-Smith’s Charles, Oliver Chris’ William and Lydia Wilson’s Kate are particularly impressive, although this is very much an ensemble piece.