Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The Man Who Would Be King

Dawn State Theatre Company

Genre: Drama

Venue: Zoo Venues, The Aviary


Low Down

"Dawn State’s pulsating tale of greed, adventure and ruin rips up Kipling’s classic mercenary yarn to interrogate Britain’s place in the world today. Two actors combine searing text, bold physicality and original music to tell the story of Peachy Callahan and Daniel Dravot, soldiers-for-hire amidst the shifting borders of the Middle East. Tired of the mercenary life, Peachy and Daniel have come up with a plan: head to northern Afghanistan, enslave the natives and install themselves as kings. Thrilling, contemporary theatre, nominated for Les Enfants Terribles Award 2014."


Dawn State have absorbed Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”, given it a good dusting off and present their own fine re-telling of this classic story at the suitably intimate Zoo Aviary.

Kipling’s story is a classic – two British adventurers aim to set themselves up as kings in a remote Indian region and in a twist of fate are received as gods. Greed overtakes them and when one of them tries to take a wife, she bites him during the wedding ceremony and the blood reveals him not as a deity, but human. He is ritually murdered, his friend crucified, but after surviving the night, he is released, the natives believing it to be a miracle. He crawls back to civilisation, surviving just long enough to recount his journey.

Reimagining part of the story into contemporary Afghanistan we are reminded that little has changed since the disastrous British withdrawal in 1842 – and of course more recently. All soldiers are under pressure and when one of them who was presumed lost returns, horribly disfigured, those in charge are left to gather the intelligence and act upon it.

Christopher Birks’ nervous officer, eager to please and get a transfer up the line, pumps Dan Nicholson’s distressed trooper for his story. Cleverly integrating the historical and modern, we get both tales, the actors moving seamlessly between them with just a couple of filing cabinets and some manila boxes to suggest contemporary military administration and ancient desert. The actors cleverly inhabit their own characters – and others – with a physical or vocal change, or a smart manipulation of a jacket and scarf. The pace is well observed and the imagination is engaged so we are constantly surprised by the broken and flipped timeline.

The tension between Birks’ incarnation of Daniel Dravot and Nicholson’s Peachey Carnahan ratchets up to a fine climax – both actors give excellent performances – and we enjoy the various storytelling techniques they bring to bear. Dan Coleman’s direction is pinpoint and we are left to consider how absolute power corrupts absolutely – and how history repeats itself. A promising debut.