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The Man Who Would be King review at Greenwich Theatre, London – ‘charismatic and adroit performances’

Christopher Birks and Dan Nicholson in The Man Who Would Be King at Greenwich Theatre, London. Photo: Karla Gowlett
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In his adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King, adaptor and director Dan Coleman has created something more engaging than the rather impenetrable 1888 novella. Kipling’s morality tale about the violence that ensues when a few individuals rise and fall on a brief wave of absolute power is swiftly paced and suitably theatrical, in spite of some puzzling Freemasonry business and some manic character swapping that sometimes compromises clarity.

Set in a remote outpost in colonial India, the unfortunate situation is re-enacted to an unseen superior sent in to make sense of things. Mercenary Daniel Dravot and his wheeler dealer sidekick Peachy Callahan ingratiate themselves in an unworldly mountainside community and appoint themselves as god-like leaders, before the conquered rise up and rebel with the quintessentially English military skills and weapons given to them by their conquerors. The interrogation of Peachy acts as a framing device, in which the audience can’t help but identify with the invisible, unsympathetic colonel in the demand for answers.

There is a pair of charismatic and adroit performances by Christopher Birks and Dan Nicholson. Birks is compelling in the dual roles of a quietly ambitious civil servant and power-hungry aspiring dictator, and Dan Nicholson brings a real touch of pity to the scruffy and cagey Peachy.

Dawn State’s effectively murky production takes place in bureaucratic surroundings with largely timeless aesthetics. Some stirring musical interludes provide a touch of warmth amidst the mix of horror and mundanity.

 

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Verdict
Dense subject matter fluidly re-imagined and nimbly performed.
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