Project Dictator

Julian Spooner and Matt Wells are Rhum + Clay, previously responsible for the successful War of the Worlds, which was also staged at the New Diorama. As part of its impressive commitment to companies developing new, experimental work the theatre hosts the pair again as part of their 10th anniversary season (accompanied, as are all the shows in this season, by free pizza). Project Dictator aims to explore performance under authoritarian regimes, but it seems that Spooner and Wells with co-director Hamish Macdougall, have not succeeded in pulling their well-intentioned ideas together to create a coherent show.

Project Dictator by Rhum + Clay – New Diorama Theatre, London

Project Dictator consists of two sections, that feel like sketches that have not yet developed into anything more. The show starts with the pair performing a ‘play that goes wrong’-style skit, with a pompous, do-gooding politician who’s subjugated sidekick rebels, and starts ordering him around, dressed as a comedy dictator. He then turns his attention on the audience, asking for allegiance and then demanding traitors are identified. It’s all very broad. Just as darker implications of the performer-audience relationship are starting to emerge, it ends, and the second half begins. This time, the pair are mime artists forced to perform manic sketches by an unseen voice. When they resist, one is dragged off and apparently beaten.

Although Rhum + Clay have spoken to performers in other countries to understand their experience of oppressive regimes, but this material has not obviously made its way onto the stage. While the performers are skilled and committed, the show seems lightweight, which is unfortunate in the context of the subject matter, and its purpose is not clear. Still, not all experiments succeed, and no doubt the company will find its mojo again before long, with support from essential conduits for new stage work like the New Diorama.

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