Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Review: Dinner with Saddam at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Dinner with Saddam
Menier Chocolate Factory
Reviewed on Tuesday 22nd September 2015

In Anthony Horowitz's new play Dinner with Saddam the Alawai family receive the surprise of a lifetime when they are informed that Saddam Hussein is coming round for dinner. The concept sounds absolutely ridiculous, but Horowitz's play is based on truth - Saddam Hussein would sometimes drop into the homes of 'normal' people for dinner. Dinner with Saddam is a political comedy with some dark layers to be shed.

With a top notch cast, many of whom are experienced screen actors, you feel as if you are peering into a TV sitcom. Sanjeev Bhaskar and Shobu Kapoor have fantastic chemistry as Mr and Mrs Alawai. Bhaskar particularly excels as his character's desperate antics become more and more extreme.

It's quite something to be able to admire Steven Berkoff's return to the stage from the intimacy of the Menier. Stepping into the role of Saddam Hussein, everything about Berkoff's performance is so effortless; it is the smallest of facial expressions, or even a simple twitch of the eye, which receive the biggest reactions from the audience.

Rebecca Grant plays their daughter, Rana, who finds herself in a love triangle - her father has arranged for her to marry Jammal (Nathan Amzi) but she is in love with out of work actor Sayid (Ilan Goodman) who sneaks into the Alawai household to whisk Rana away by pretending he is a plumber. Grant has natural charm and brings a nice dynamic to the piece while Amzi steals some of the evening's biggest laughs - his act two upset bowel acting is award-worthy, my jaw was on the ground. Fresh from impressing in the West End transfer of Bad Jews, Goodman proves himself as a terrific character actor with striking stage presence - he is certainly one to watch.

The first act of Lindsay Posner's production is built up spectacularly, culminating in Saddam Hussein's anticipated entrance. However, there are a few dips in the second half - once the fast paced physical comedy is toned down the piece loses steam. Ultimately the 'more serious' scenes could be tighter and delve a little deeper. At the moment Dinner with Saddam is fun and features some very humorous moments, but there is certainly room for it to use more extreme juxtaposition to create a powerful piece of theatre that makes a stronger political point whilst amusing its audience. 

When you sit back and think about Dinner with Saddam, it's extraordinary that so much humour can be drawn from such dark circumstances. In the programme notes Horowitz writes, "I wrote a comedy because it was the only way I felt I could approach the subject. Otherwise, it just makes you want to cry." When at its best, Dinner with Saddam is a clever piece of writing; however, I think there is still some work to be done to take Horowitz's play to the next level.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Dinner with Saddam runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 14th November 2015.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Catherine Ashmore

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