Theatre Review - Project Dictator

RHUM and Clay’s latest production, described as “a clown show about totalitarianism”, is inspired by conversations with international artists living under authoritarian regimes.

Performers Matt Wells and Julian Spooner (working with co-director Hamish Macdougall) set a darkly satirical tone. The first half is a power struggle as to who controls the narrative. Wells claims to have written a post-Brexit, state-of-the-nation play about a politician, but his stage manager and bit player, Jeremy (Spooner), has other ideas. He tries to get the audience on side, with the help of a megaphone, in order to wrestle control from his co-performer.

Jeremy is determined to make his sketch about a dictator as funny as possible and relegates Wells to the part of a journalist mocked and then suppressed. Despite the heavy irony, it still feels slightly uncomfortable to be laughing about grandstanding despots given the atrocities currently being committed in Ukraine by one of the world’s worst dictators.

We then segue into what appears to be another work entirely. A curtain descends and two Pierrot clowns with white faces, skull caps and red noses are waiting in a dressing room. They are instructed what to perform and when by a sinister voice over the Tannoy.

It soon becomes clear that they are the silenced puppets of an unseen regime, forced to repeat endless mime routines. We too are ensnared – a LED display dictates when we are to applaud.

Throughout, Syrian composer Khaled Kurbeh keeps time with an atmospheric soundscape using keyboard, drum and cymbals. His terrifying finale is particularly memorable.

It’s very much a show of two halves – a series of skits, some of which are more developed than others. There are flashes of brilliance – the threat of a performance lasting over four hours without an interval, the audience member invited to sketch the dictator, the encouragement to report on your neighbour and the sense that we are being coerced as much as the actors  – but the lack of cohesion makes it feel like a work in progress rather than a fully formed production.

Until April 30

Originally published by Camden New Journal