REVIEW: King Charles III, Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday, December 5.

An imagined future constitutional crisis is presented as Shakespearean tragedy in a play which offers pretty much everything you could hope for in a night out at the theatre.

Robert Powell in King Charles III. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Robert Powell in King Charles III. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

It’s bold, beautifully acted, stylishly delivered and also very, very provocative – a vision of the future which never completely convinces but which offers huge amounts to think about as we ponder just who it is– or ought to be – who’s running our country.

The underlying flaw in the piece is that it is not conceivable that after all his years of waiting Prince Charles, when he finally becomes Charles III, would engineer a crisis which threatens the very thing he’s been waiting for.

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However eccentric, however principled he might be, you simply cannot imagine him throwing it all away. Self-preservation has generally been the regal way.

But playwright Mike Bartlett gets away with it, partly because of the boldness of his vision, partly also because he decides to recast Charles as something somewhere between Macbeth and Lear, an isolated figure at court summoning his own disasters and hurtling towards them.

Robert Powell, back at the CFT for the first time in nearly two decades, is terrific as King Charles III, avoiding impersonation but judging it perfectly to suggest just enough of Charles for us to go with him.

Jennifer Bryden is uncannily Kate, while Richard Glaves is hilarious but also strangely poignant as Harry, presenting him as an engaging mix of gormless toff, sulky brat and sadly lost soul.

There’s no need to guess just who turns up as the Ghost of Royalty Past in Barlett’s vision of Royalty Future, but he teases out wonderfully well all the tensions and rivalries in the power games that follow. This is a family at war… but a war with huge external ramifications.

The second half probably doesn’t quite live up to the huge promise of the first, and there are moments where it all gets just a bit bogged down.

But at its best, this is striking and strikingly-original drama.

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