The Man Who Would Be King, in a new stage adaptation by Dawn State, tells Rudyard Kipling’s story set around British Imperial involvement in the Afghanistan region. Costume aside, the company leave the audience to bring this story’s contemporary reverberations up to date for themselves – but this is nonetheless a fluent and well worked piece of storytelling.
The production is framed as an interrogation of a man named Peachey Callahan by a British Officer, in front of a silent colonel figure located in the middle distance, among the audience. There’s some tension with how far the audience can be made to feel complicit with the hostile colonel figure, but the idea is that the story is being told as much on our demand as it is his.
Peachey’s story sees him and a fellow soldier, Daniel Dravot, go together on a mission in northern Afghanistan, convincing a tribe that they are deities before training them up and equipping them with weapons. Their fate inevitable turns when Dravot grows restless, demands a wife from the tribespeople, who then violently rebel and pursue the two men. This is intervention gone wrong, where power corrupts the minds of those who have placed themselves in charge of a different society.
Just two actors (Christopher Birks and Dan Nicholson) tell the story, with Birks doing a great deal of fluid multi-rolling. A real sense of the sinister atmosphere of Kipling’s world hangs over this production, a world where laws are slippery and martial, where men take mortality into their own hands.
Kipling’s language has been largely retained, which – whilst a little dated and occasionally stifling – gives the production a mythic frankness. This is a sharp and sinister morality tale, which calls out darkly from another age.
The Man Who Would Be King is at ZOO (Venue 124) until 25 August. For more information and tickets, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/man-who-would-be-king