“Without my spirit and voice I am dust,” says Prince, sorry King Charles.

The queen has died and, clad in black, the (reasonably) recognisable faces of the royal family stare solemnly out at us, lit by candlelight as their chanting rises to a crescendo.

Mike Bartlett’s provocative new ’future play’ grapples with the nature of what it means to be monarch.

When Charles (Tim Pigot-Smith) asks “shall I be mother?“ while serving tea to the Prime Minister (Adam James) what sounds like an amusing pun actually gets to the heart of the matter. Should he follow in his mother’s footsteps and maintain a reassuring arm’s length approach rule?

The pressure is soon cranked up as, although the coronation is yet to make Charles officially king, the PM arrives with a bill that requires his royal assent.

Bartlett’s brilliant choice for this crucial twist, the freedom, or rather regulation, of the press, throws Charles into a conundrum and begins an unravelling of what drives each and every member of his family.

There’s Camilla (Margot Leicester), who, with a hint of Hyacinth Bucket, urges him to rise to greatness, William who wants to follow his grandmother’s teachings, Kate itching for her chance to rule as a ’different kind of Queen’ and lovestruck Harry who wants to throw off royal life for a ’commoner’.

But his dilemma also makes the play about so much more than simply an issue of republican or royalist? It becomes a pithy questioning of where we may be headed in just (sorry Ma’am) a scant few years and the role a free press plays in shaping that future. As a charming kebab shop owner says, so much of what made Britain great in the past has been sliced away and people are scared of what we might, or might not, be left with.

By writing in Shakespearian-style blank verse, Bartlett adds a sense of historical weight and wit but also an unavoidable comparison to King Lear, with Charles as the fading royal, too blind to see how he is being manipulated by those around him.

At first he flounders, lamenting that people assume he has views ’ready-made like a microwave meal’ but under pressure his opinions soon begin to form and harden into a resolve which sees gangs forming in the streets wearing V for Vendetta masks.

The drama builds at a perfect pace, tempered with brilliant sprinkles of irreverent humour, taking digs at everything from Kate’s label as a clothes horse, to Harry’s Las Vegas visit and even Diana’s famous upward glances.

Charles, argument that the press are like the antibodies of the nation and this could be his “one great act“ as king is countered by the PM’s insistence that no matter what the queen thought of laws she ‘ALWAYS signed’.

The ending, of course, cannot be spoiled, but it’s safe to say director Rupert Gould has teased a tremendous set of performances from his actors and a subject that seems sure to descend into farce or boredom is ratcheted up into a play that will echo long and hard in the mind.

King Charles III runs at Almeida Theatre until May 31. Details here