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Review: King of the World at 81 Renshaw Street ***

A certain bouffant-haired, dainty-handed president may be the butt of a million internet jokes, but the question is - who will have the last laugh?

Writer Brian Coyle’s King of the World, staged this week as part of the ongoing Liverpool Fringe Festival, is billed as ‘a dark comedy for dark times’ and it certainly offers food for thought in these days of megalomania, cult politics and the global rise of populism.

Echoing Sinclair Lewis’ terrific 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here as well as modern-day shenanigans across the pond, Coyle’s three-hander asks – what happens when a man with an enormous thirst for power (or perhaps that should be celebrity?) but a very brittle ego, makes himself the titular monarch of all?

Minty (Keith Hyland), Glow (Pea Lee) and Jig (Sean McGlynn, channelling a dangerously wild-eyed Keith Allen vibe) are three fetid ‘undesirables’ eking out a sad existence on the margins of society and who have seemingly differing views on the beloved king and his increasingly erratic and paranoid proclamations.

“Before the purge we were free,” muses the dishevelled Minty. “Democracy, it were called.”

Following the pattern laid down by most dictators, theirs has become a world of book burnings, strange salutes, denouncement of neighbours and disappearances.

Who will be brave enough to stand up and be counted?

Performed in the intimate theatre space at 81 Renshaw Street, King of the World has something of the feel of Beckett’s Endgame.

Coyle, who has previously taken a microscope to surveillance society, has created a piece here that is more uncomfortably wry than laugh-out-loud funny, but which shows how easily democracy can become dictatorship if good men (and women) do nothing, and how a change of regime doesn’t necessarily mean a break of the cycle.

The play could do with a general tightening up, including trimming the penultimate scene, although rationing the many stilted conversations and looming silences to fewer, but more meaningful, moments would also help with that.

But overall, King of the World is the kind of provoking piece that can make fringe theatre a rewarding experience for the adventurous.

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