Dinner With Saddam by Anthony Horowitz at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Anthony Horowitz has written a tremendous play here. We would expect nothing less, having grown up with his stories of teenage spies and spooky schools that kept us thrilled for years. Venturing onto the difficult to pull off territory of farce, this comedy about dinner with Saddam Hussein fully succeeds.  We, at the Ginger Wig, so often on top of everything theatre, were, unsurprisingly, at the first public viewing of this show at The Menier Chocolate Factory.

So what would you do if one of the most notorious dictators of the 20th century came to supper at your house? “Saddam, fearful of assassination attempts, was known to move regularly from private home to private home. Even before the war, he declined to spend nights in one of his palaces.” This excerpt from USA Today provides the plot. Saddam Hussein descends upon a regular Iraqi family for supper on the eve of the American bombing of Baghdad in 2003. Much hilarity ensues from some mislabelled rat poison, a suit that no longer fits and a confusion between a bag of dates and a bag of something else…

Lindsay Posner directs, having previously directed ‘Abigail’s Party’ at the Menier not to long ago. Here she again brings excellent direction to this similarly comic yet very different dinner party. Sanjeev Bhaskar brings the magic of his character in ‘The Kumars at No. 42′. He really is a master of comic timing and acting and plays the bored then panicked ‘regular Mo’ expertly. He is supported by a good cast with Shobu Kapoor and Rebecca Grant as his wife and daughter, panicking and fluttering around the house to get it ready. The women in this family are clearly superior in wit and resourcefulness to the father who, unlike them, has assimilated all the state propaganda believing that there is no threat whatsoever from American bombardment. Nonetheless they all live with the fear of terrible consequences if discovered for disloyalty of any kind, to their leader. There is also a massive dig at arranged marriage here.  The plumber/love interest who doubles as Saddam’s right hand man is played by a very adept and versatile Ilan Goodman; the slimy husband-to-be is Nathan Amzi, who has a very troubled time when meeting Saddam, whilst the man himself, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, or Horowitz’s concept of him, is played quite brilliantly by Steven Berkoff. If you saw Simon Russell Beale as Stalin in Collaborators at the National Theatre then think how Russell Beale combined a weary lacklustre exterior with a completely matter of fact approach to tyranny.  Thus with Berkoff.  In Dinner, the cast come together to deliver a show that has laughs and revelations about the Saddam dictatorship and delivers a sobering reality check on the impact of British and American and other foreign intervention in the region: one example, 30 or so military interventions by the United Sates of America around the world in Saddam’s lifetime and all of them failures as he explains. Western powers must really learn to stop intervening militarily in foreign affairs.

Really though, it is the writing of Anthony Horowitz that truly triumphs here. He has written a well researched play, and used farce to tell a story which being told in a democracy provides a very entertaining evening with important messages. Had it been performed in Iraq, it would have resulted in death for the participants: a two-edged sword indeed.

Catch this show at the charming Menier Chocolate Factory for a night of sheer hilarity. Fantastic writing from Anthony Horowitz! Catch his latest hit and find out how Basingstoke contributed to Saddam’s glory! Running at the Menier until the 14th November.

Highlight of the show: Saddam’s parting gift…

Wigs 4/5

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