Project Dictator at New Diorama Theatre
Making its world premiere at the New Diorama Theatre in London, Project Dictator is the searingly topical story of two outspoken artists who spiral from seemingly unbridled freedom of expression to becoming the tortured puppets of a troublingly ubiquitous authoritarian regime.
Co-directed with Hamish Macdougall, Project Dictator is the bombastic brainchild of Julian Spooner and Matt Wells, co-artistic directors of Rhum and Clay, and the pair shine in this series of off-kilter duologues. The initial sketch sees Spooner and Wells delivering a raucous indictment of the posturing of their nameless political leaders. There’s an exchange between the aspiring politician and the strung-out Amazon warehouse worker. Then we fast-forward through the former’s meteoric rise to party leadership, to a party press conference hijacked by the same Amazon employee, comically armed with a megaphone strapped to a bike helmet. From satirising a Trumpian contempt for the press to bouts of evasive political jargon that conjure visions of figures much closer to home, the manic pace and impeccable comedic timing of each scene succeed in eliciting effusive audience participation and generating a lively, jovial atmosphere, rooted in the universal theme of political disillusionment. The audience is almost a collective third cast member.
The frenetic two-man comedy act is accompanied by Syrian jazz composer Khaled Kurbeh, who performs his synth-heavy electro-acoustic score onstage throughout. Intimating a change in the actors’ fortunes, Kurbeh abruptly transitions from jazz-cafe-esque melodies to ominous synths and prolonged minor chords. The levity of the clowning sketches which comprise the following “state-sponsored” performance is dulled by the repressive threat of the ever-watchful regime, which dictates the terms of their new show via instructions blared from an offstage tannoy. That Spooner and Wells each studied clowning at L’Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris accounts for their meticulously staged and incisively executed clowning, and both succeed in imbuing their performances with the distinctive strain of performing under duress.
That the content of the performance was directly informed by anonymous contributions from artists from Syria, Venezuela, Brazil, Hungary and Azerbaijan – those with real experiences of making art under repressive regimes – infuses Project Dictator’s faceless yet formidably omniscient state with a renewed menace. The momentum of the performance, and its timely relevance to the most recent iteration of autocratic assault on democracy, with Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, make Project Dictator an inimitably profound theatrical experience with the message that the right to politically dissenting art is just that – a right, not a privilege.
Images: Cesare De Giglio
Project Dictator is at New Diorama Theatre from 29th March until 30th April 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Project Dictator here: