Review: The Mongol Khan, London Coliseum

A supersized Mongolian epic arrives at London Coliseum in The Mongol Khan

“Was she impregnated by some passing gust of wind?”

With a company of over 70 actors, dancers, puppeteers, acrobats and more, it is little surprise that there are some supremely powerful visual moments in The Mongol Khan as they flood the stage of the London Coliseum. Bayarbaatar Davaasuren and Khashkhuu Khatankhuyag’s choreography conjures stunning tableaux, from ritualistic tribal energy in court to the grief of a single person elegantly echoed throughout the bodies of ten more. As a piece of spectacle, it is unlike anything else in the West End.

Perhaps defying our expectations – or pointing up the narrowness of them – The Mongol Khan actually takes us back over 1,000 years before Genghis Khan to the time of the Hunnu Empire. Lhagvasuren Bavuu’s play – translated by John Man and adapted by Timberlake Wertenbaker – follows the dynastic struggles of Archug Khan, perplexed at siring an heir by his wife and his consort in the same year when he hasn’t slept with his wife for over 20 years. As he decides the future of the crown, his manipulative adviser Egereg chips in with strong ideas about what to do, with brutal consequences for everyone.

Hero Baatar’s production is undoubtedly lavish and the whole production absolutely marches to the beat of a different drum, one which may take some getting accustomed to. English surtitles reveal a bombastic turn of phrase straining for epic poeticness; Birvaa Myagmar and Odbayar Battagtokh’s score is less music and more tone as drums and drones dominate the soundscape; and Bold Ochirjantsan’s costume and Ganzorig Dangaa’s set designs are rich in symbolism, earthy reds, golds and blues evoking the Mongolian national colours.

It all adds up to a grandiosity that has its moments; it also has its longueurs. The pacing of its storytelling is slow, particularly in the first act, and the impact of the conceit of characters’ motivations and psyches being represented by dancers does become a little muted through overuse. But for an occasion to mark the 60th anniversary of UK/Mongolia relations and a taster of some of a cultural history of which little has been seen on these shores, it is a different and intriguing prospect.

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