New Diorama theatre, London, until April 30
Rhum + Clay’s Project Dictator is a bit of an oddity that begins promisingly enough with the tall, bespectacled funny man Matt Wells setting out his stall as a political leader. Entertainers that become politicians – some of course never quite manage to make the transition, even in office – are not exactly a novelty. Ronald Reagan comes to mind, and, of course, Boris Johnson, the Have I Got News For You panellist, who thought being prime minister could be played as a comedy act from day one. More nobly, and it’s hard really to mention him in the same breath, there is of course President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Tall and imposing, Wells makes a rather impressive politician, explaining quite convincingly that he’s sick of everything that’s gone wrong with our system, and setting out his plans to make things better.
His problem is, however, Julian Spooner as his attention-seeking stage assistant who feels he should be the centre of attention. They bitch and jostle for position quite entertainingly – Spooner eventually resorting to a megaphone to drown out his rival – but then it all becomes a little surreal as they metamorphose before our eyes into two rather sinister clowns and play out a series of routines.
Shows like this are never actually written – there is maybe a very rough script to start with – and it’s all improvised by the actors in rehearsals and fashioned into a night’s entertainment. Wells and Spooner – who direct themselves with Hamish Macdougall – are clearly dazzlingly inventive performers and understand all about movement and spectacle, but, in all honesty, the divide between genius and lunacy is a very thin one and I fear they often traverse it. It’s a pity really as there is definitely an appetite for a state-of-the-nation extravaganza – maybe capturing some of the spirit of the stage musical Oh, What a Lovely War! – and, while this occasionally gets close to being it, it ultimately baulks at the challenge.