Last night, I had the privilege of attending a truly unique theatrical experience at HOME in Manchester.
Rhum + Clay, a trailblazing Theatre Company, presented their latest production, “Project Dictator” (or ‘Why Democracy is Overrated and I Don’t Miss It At All’).
Over the past decade the company’s productions have toured in the UK and internationally, most recently with acclaimed shows Mistero Buffo and The War of the Worlds touring from the USA to Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan, France and Venezuela, the latter also selling out its entire premiere run at New Diorama Theatre.
Directed and performed by the talented duo of Julian Spooner and Matt Wells, this thought-provoking play offers an unconventional and profound commentary on totalitarianism.
Performance and Storyline
The play unfolds with Martin Wallace, a polymath theatre maker, inviting us to enjoy his hard-written ‘State of the Nation’ play.
He believes it is his magnum opus.
The central character in his play, Tobias (Matt Wells), dreams of enacting change and uniting a divided country.
However, his path to leadership is paved with buffoonery and populist control.
The ever-relatable Jeremy (Julian Spooner) provides a humorous counterpoint as he grumbles about Tobias’s talk without action and ends up taking over the play’s plot.
In the end, they fall out, with Jeremy refusing to play second fiddle to Tobias and in the end he hijacks the storyline of the play.
As the narrative progresses, Jeremy breaks the fourth wall, inviting the audience to chant “No more play!”
A member of the audience is even invited to draw a portrait of Jeremy, who after ransacking the narrative, has self-proclaimed himself as ‘the play’s hero’.
The boundaries between reality and fiction blur, leading to unexpected consequences.
What begins as looking like a facial comedy, takes one hell of a turn, as the narrative pivots to a uniquely bleak and captivating experience.
Tobias and Jeremy are stripped down to their underwear and black hoods, becoming white-faced sad clowns.
They are forced to adhere to a rigid script and convey profound vulnerability, pain, and fear.
The physicality of their performance and the relentless “Applause” sign create an intensely engaging atmosphere that keeps spectators spellbound.
Half nausea, half intrigue the narrative drives forward as the clowns are pressured to re-create a mysterious and intense play, of which the audience has no idea what’s going to happen next.
Cast & Creatives
The creative minds behind “Project Dictator” can congratulate themselves for an exceptional job.
With Co-Director and Performers Julian Spooner and Matt Wells at the helm, the production also boasts the musical talent of Khaled Kurbeh, the creative touch of Co-Director Hamish Macdougall, the imaginative designs by Blythe Brett, the atmospheric lighting by Simeon Miller, and the direction finesse of Mine Cerci.
The music is deeply unnerving, with familiar tropes of songs played out of kilter, adding to the growing sense of unease permeating the play.
The skilful timing of the drop of the curtain and bleak lighting changes all add to a brooding, growing sense of something being not quite right.
The technical brilliance of Adam Jefferys, Ben Grant’s sound engineering, and the insightful contributions of Assistant Director Sam Critchlow and Producer Grace Dickson complete the ensemble that brought this exceptional piece to life.
Project Dictator at HOME
“Project Dictator” explores the bold and unconventional choice of its characters to confront their own mortality, either onstage or off.
It draws inspiration from conversations with international artists living under authoritarian regimes, making it a timely and relevant piece of art.
“Project Dictator” is a bold and clever satire that invites contemplation on the dangers of political manipulation and the fragility of democracy.
While the message is clear, Rhum + Clay’s brilliant execution leaves room for interpretation, prompting deep reflection on the dynamics of power and control in our society.
Which to be honest, currently hits very close to the bone.
“Project Dictator” by Rhum + Clay is a must-see production that combines physical virtuosity with creative brilliance.
The play takes you on a rollercoaster ride through politics, clownery, and the human condition.
Rhum + Clay’s exceptional craftsmanship shines through in this production, challenging audiences to question the nature of politics, authority, and the human spirit.
You can get tickets to this play by clicking here.