In Mike Bartlett's quasi Shakespearian telling of the fictional death of Queen Elizabeth and the automatic succession to the British throne of her son Prince Charles (now King Charles III) we get over two hours of brilliant political theatre with a dark comic edge.
The magnificent set, almost mediaeval in look – crumbling ancient walls – tall guttering candles – dark entrances and a sea of faded painted faces right across the middle section is designed by Tom Scutt. The atmosphere is heightened throughout with superb music from composer Jocelyn Pook and splendid sound design from Paul Ardetti. Lighting designer is Jon Clark.
King Charles III benefits hugely from excellent direction (Robert Goold with Whitney Mosery) and the whole play flows along like a stricken royal barge dangerously navigating the river Thames at night. As the story glides by it takes in the difficult politics in Parliament due to King Charles refusal in signing a legal document concerning freedom of the press. Social unrest ensues and along the way, with a few nasty bumps into the proverbial riverbank we eavesdrop on certain major players in the current royal family and their entourage.
None of the royal characters are caricatured and Robert Powell is terrifically stubborn and vulnerable as the new King who just wants an easy life after waiting almost a lifetime for his mother to pass away and for himself to rightfully attain the throne. Son, Harry 'Prince of Wales' just desires to be a 'normal bloke that shops in Sainsbury's and has a house that he has paid for'. Richard Glaves lights up the stage as the confused and love-struck Harry and Lucy Phelps plays his new girlfriend and staunch republican in a very natural way – at once in awe of her situation and politically pulling the opposite way.
William and Kate (Ben Righton and Jennifer Brydon) are almost perfect look-a-likes for their roles; William forever holding his hands together at waist level; intelligent, polite and strongly built and Kate – beautifully dressed and initially demure. As the play evolves however the tides turn and Kate comes into her own; acting much more ambitious and vociferous, pushing her husband William to usurp his father as king. Supporting King Charles III himself is his wife Camilla (Penelope Beaumont) and shown as an equal to Charles whose loyalty to her husband is tried to the utmost as the country goes into civil war and Charles struggles to reason why.
The two major politicians Mr Stevens and Mr Evans (Giles Taylor and Tim Treloar) appear to walked straight out of the real House of Commons and even with their dialogue being mostly governed by the strictures of iambic pentameter, their performances are very natural and powerful on the stage.
This complex and potentially controversial play from the Almeida Theatre (on tour) is brilliantly written and performed and although the story is dark and - even includes a recognisable ghost predicting destiny- it is not without a great deal of wit.
For those coming to the play to see Robert Powell as the lead they will be delighted in his tour de force portrayal in the challenging lead role. For those interested in witnessing 'a play of the future' today with a superb ensemble look no further than this terrific production. Charles III runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 10th October 2015.