King of the World Brian Coyle

The writer Brian Coyle and director Emma Bird, team up again to bring us King of the World. A future view of what might happen if the current trend of populist leadership continues.

The play was billed as a dark comedy but at times treated the subject a little too frivolously, but perhaps the situation our three characters find themselves in is derived from people not taking leaders like Trump and Putin seriously.

Coyle draws on lots of examples from modern history to plunge our three ‘Undesirables’ into. We have John Major’s bastards, Vladimir Putin bare-chested horse riding, Donald Trump’s tiny hands and feet and the underlying idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Minty (Keith Hyland), Glow (Pea Lee), and Jig (Sean McGlynn) are forced to live on the outskirts of society rummaging in the dump they live on to make their lives bearable. Minty longs for the olden days of democracy; Glow mourns for her disappeared parents whereas Jig wants to fit in and to this end becomes part of the titular King’s machine.

It all begins with Minty facing the dilemma of signing the new pledge to the leader. He is growingly concerned about the book burning, Statues, salutes but most of all, the world beyond the leader’s great wall. Glow, who has become Minty’s adopted daughter, is worried he may be reported but when his best friend Jig confesses to doing just that, the play takes a darker turn.

As Glow and Jig compete to report each other we see parallels that extreme right and extreme left-wing politics cross over once a dictator’s ego grows too large. Grim reminders of the communist Chinese government, when it first came to power, start to creep in.

Some of the scenes are uncomfortably poignant particularly as Lee is able to channel so much angst into Glow’s character. The menace of Jig didn’t always come over as he needed something stronger to say. Minty was very endearing as the protective father figure and loveable rogue.

Listening to audience reaction upon exit gave for a very split opinion of the play; some enjoying the humour, some felt emotional and others didn’t really know what to take from it. I too was a little confused about the final message. It seemed to be ‘all leaders become despots in the end so sit down and watch with a drink in your hand, from a distance.’ I’m not sure if the writer really had this in mind. However, the play has all the ingredients to be performed on a larger scale.

Perhaps this is why fringe theatre is so healthy; it gives audiences a chance to see great new works that are on their way to being brilliant and it also gives writers a chance to gauge audience reaction and rethink elements of the play. I hope to see this play again with more of the thought-provoking moments and drama that moved the audience of 81 Renshaw Street.

Sharon Colpman

Sharon has worked in education for most of her life. In 2001 she helped launch a theatre group in Hampshire focusing on the local community. Upon moving back to the North West, Sharon launched Make it Write, an organization dedicated to help new writers particularly writing for performance.