The Man Who Would Be King (4 stars)

Kipling's tale of imperialist ambition is given a contemporary resonance

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The Man Who Would Be King

Perhaps best known in the film version – which saw the dream team of Sean Connery and Michael Caine play the would-be emperors – Kipling's Afghanistan story is more than just a boy's own adventure, reflecting on the arrogant ambitions of a British Empire that would rule through both military and cultural dominance.

Dawn State's version subtly updates the action – the two heroes have been involved in familiar Middle Eastern conflict – but relies on two striking performances to question the morality, and probable success rate, of western warriors trying to control the tribes of the mountains.

Dan Nicholson, as the wounded Peachy Callahan, is convincingly distressed: he carries the narrative, ably assisted by Christopher Birks, from the optimistic beginning to the brutal conclusion. NiIcholson manages to avoid the cliches of acting mad, convincing as a man horrified by his experiences and his complicity in a naive land-grab.

Finding the subtle themes within Kipling – the condemnation of British arrogance, the foolishness of imposing one culture on another – and matching them to the contemporary scenario in the middle east and beyond, Dawn State rehabilitate Kipling; less poet of the empire, Dawn State find in him a nagging, insistent warning against the dangers of colonial confidence.

Zoo Aviary, run ended.

The Man Who Would Be King

A pulsating piece of rough theatre that rips up Kipling's adventure story to interrogate Britain's place in the world today. Ages 12+.

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