The Man Who Would Be King

Dawn State

Zoo

From 01 August 2014 to 25 August 2014

Rating: *****

Review by Graeme Strachan

Rudyard Kipling's classic tale of British Imperialist condescension, the 'civilisation' of the subjugated and the corrupting nature of power is an oft overlooked gem.

The story of Peachey Carnehan and Daniel Dravot, soldiers and freemasons both, and their quest into the mountainous reaches of Kafiristan to become kings is replete with all the facets to make a brilliant play.

It's no surprise that Dawn State's modern-day take on the story, adapted and directed by Dan Coleman, works fittingly well, as the various modern interventions and military occupations of the Middle East give entirely too plausible a basis for the setting and the story.

Dawn State has reimagined the novella and, in bringing it to a modern contemporary setting, lost none of the power and magic of the original, while still managing to lend a modern political bent to the scenario.

The piece begins with Dan Nicholson's Peachy, who sits, head-bagged and handcuffed, in the office of a British military outpost where the sole residing officer, Christopher Birks, is explaining the situation with a proud and desperate relish to his commanding officer, the audience. Soon enough, and with the twist of a shmaugh and a beret, Birks takes the role of Dravot, and the story is recounted.

It's a highly entertaining play, filled with bombastic song, loud proclamations, a hint of mysticism and lofty allusions to godhood with just enough modern embellishment to update the story without ever spoiling it, such as Dravot being an ex-SAS operative and Peachy a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and the period rifles now becoming AK47s.

The production is sublime. Birks works magnificently in the dual roles of the Kiplingesque officer and Dravot, shifting between the two mannerisms and voices with articulate ease, while the sublter and more gradual transformation of Peachy, from idealist grinning soldier to uncomfortable subordinate monarch to broken madman, is a masterful act from Nicholson.

It's a frankly outstanding production, full of wit, charm and fascination. From the opening moment to the sombre and cutting ending, it's one which will keep the audience rapt.