Dinner with Saddam – Menier Chocolate Factory
When faced with a farce about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, my initial question was ‘how could this possibly work?’. How can such a tragic part of our recent history be portrayed in such a manner? In the words of Horowitz himself, in this production you have to laugh at it, ‘otherwise it makes you want to cry’.
The entire play takes place in the home of a normal Iraqi family, discussing the UN sanctions and speculating about the imminent American invasion, when a surprise dinner guest announces himself. As the title points out, it is Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who is said to have actually sought refuge in stranger’s homes for dinner in order to conceal his whereabouts from the CIA. With his daughter becoming recently radicalised and accidentally poisoning Colonel Farouk, the family patriarch Ahmed is desperate for this dinner to run as smoothly as possible, and for his family to escape with their lives.
Sanjeev Bhaskar’s hilarious physical comedy and impeccable comic timing was what truly carried act 1. His ‘Basil Fawlty esque’ panic lent itself wonderfully to the piece. It is also worth noting that his relationship with his wife (played by Shobu Kapoor) was a joy to watch, as they masterfully bounced off one another in their marital quarrels. It is when an unrecognisable Steven Berkoff made his entrance at the end of act 1 as Saddam Hussein, that the mood of the piece took a definite shift.
If anything were to go wrong (which inevitably it would in a farce) the stakes are much higher when Saddam Hussein is present. Berkoff had a terrifying command of the stage and the dinner table moments were brilliantly directed by Lindsay Posner.
Whilst I found the Horowitz’s writing to be both clever and amusing, I felt it cheapened itself at times with one too many cheap fart jokes for my liking. Whilst the farce was very amusing, it was also highly predictable. Horowitz’s political voice came out through Saddam’s final monologues at the dinner table, where he criticises the choices of the western governments. Whilst this was delivered nicely by Berkoff, I felt the point to be a little ‘hammered home’ at times. By this stage, we had got the point. However the end of the piece was very striking and the audience were left questioning their own beliefs on the Iraq war, which no doubt was Horowitz’s intention.
So did it work as a piece? Yes and no. Whilst the hilarity of the farce and the gravity of the politics were played out well individually, I cannot whole heartedly say that they married together effectively.
Reviewed by Laura Cooper
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Dinner with Saddam runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until the 14th of November. Click here to book tickets