The Mongol Khan arrives at the London Coliseum from the steppes of Mongolia for its two-week run on November 18, and the experience – from watching the performers warm up to the show itself – is intoxicating.
Acrobats bend their bodies into fantastical shapes, stacking themselves neatly into towers and writhing to simulate experiences and emotions from sex to pain. At one point, a richly robed man strides across the stage, knife in hand, ready to exact bloody revenge; women wearing costumes three times as tall as they are sway and undulate in time with the music.
Director Baatar describes it as “a tragedy drama”, one based on the massive Mongol Empire of the 13th century – and the dialogue (translated into English by Timberlake Wertenbaker) feels appropriately epic. “Strike me down, you heavens, if I am wrong!” the Khan cries at the start of the play; when his son is born, he declares: “When he speaks, may his first word be the cry of empire.”
Mongolia doesn’t have a thriving theatrical culture, but that’s something this play is determined to change.
Mongolia has few plays to call its own, but the Mongol Khan is one. Written in 1998 by beloved national poet and playwright Lkhagvasuren Bavuu, the play was revived after his death by his friend Baatar in 2022 and has clocked up more than 150 showings before transferring to the UK.