I’m not quite sure what it was I expected of a performance called Project Dictator, but what I saw tonight at the New Diorama Theatre certainly wasn’t it. Perhaps I pictured something quietly enraging where I could scoff and shake my head, or some subtly satirical prose. Maybe it would be gently suggested that they’re hinting at one maniacal world leader or the other. Whatever it might have been, crikey, this certainly took me by surprise.
Project Dictator was outrageously energetic and terrifyingly audience-inclusive. Given the starting point of talking to artists who live under oppressive regimes, it was both worryingly hilarious and seriously worrying. As a performance in two halves, we start with a writer’s (played by Matt Wells) attempt at a performance of their thought-provoking work, which is interrupted by lovable buffoon Jeremy, played by Julian Spooner. Jeremy just wants to make everything flashy and fun for our sake. What starts off as harmless jokes turns malicious towards the writer quite quickly, and before you know it you’re scared into loving and complying with Jeremy’s regime of all spark and no substance. A clever turn around, craftily done.
The second half was just as powerful but nearly completely bereft of any words. Spooner and Wells change into miming clowns who act out their own reunion and demise under the thumb of an unseen commanding voice. It was a masterclass in slapstick turned sinister. I admit the narrative of it was somewhat hard to follow, but the gesture-created feel of it was enough to keep me enticed. The two halves of the performance didn’t quite gel to make a whole, but I don’t think that was the idea and I didn’t mind too much – let’s call it two for the price of one.
The two actors have a chemistry which this kind of thing wouldn’t be able to exist without, and as individual performers they are entirely committed to every nuance of the show; it was obvious they care about what they’re showing us. Khaled Kurbeh, the show’s composer and musician, completed the triad through his subtle but effective underscoring. It was a nice touch to include him in the narrative as well. Well done to everyone involved, especially those unnamed who contributed from places where the malice we witnessed as spectators is reality: bravo.
Created by: Rhum + Clay
Producer: Grace Dickson
Co-Directors: Julian Spooner, Matt Wells and Hamish Macdougall
Composer and musician: Khaled Kurbeh
Set and costume designer: Blythe Brett
Project Dictator plays at New Diorama until 30 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.