Dinner with Saddam

Anthony Horowitz
Menier Chocolate Factory

It’s difficult to imagine a play about the dictator Saddam Hussein popping round for dinner could be anything but utterly revolting. For that reason alone, Anthony Horowitz's latest play is a triumph. It could be said he’s achieved the impossible.

Dinner with Saddam is a delicious mix of hilarious one-liners sprinkled with bite-sized chunks of politics for context. Like baking a cake, timing is crucial and the cast were spot on, dishing up this intelligent and brave script to perfection.

The beauty of this comedy farce, which is set in the Bagdad home of a normal(ish) family who on the whole despise Saddam and his brutal regime, is that there’s a sense that what unfolds could actually happen. What gives Dinner with Saddam the edge is the views held by the Alawai’s. Staunchly opposed to the military regime over which Saddam presides and the treatment of the Iraqi people the big question is: can everyone at the dinner table keep their more liberal views to themselves?

The twists and turns that unfold between the fairly western-looking living room and kitchen help move the play along and keep you on your toes. The attention to detail and the sub-plots are a treat, only adding to the depth and intelligence of the whole story.

There’s no doubt Sanjeev Bhaskar and Shobu Kapoor who play Ahmed and Samira Alawai smash their respective roles. Their on-stage chemistry has certainly benefited from their working together in the past on a whole range of shows. Bhaskar is brilliant as the ridiculously clumsy head of the household whose efforts to ensure the President’s meal is one he’ll never forget get him in all sorts of trouble.

No-one really knows what sort of guest Saddam would actually be if he did dropped in for dinner. For that reason, Steven Berkoff’s Saddam is nothing more than a caricature of the tyrant. Physically his presence and status as a man to be feared is captured perfectly.

Horowitz creates an arrogant, vulgar Saddam with little respect or manners. But at times there’s a suggestion he also has a warmer side, but those moments don’t last long. There’s a monologue which aims to fill in the political gaps and give a bit of context where the humour and pace of the play dips, but fortunately it doesn’t last long.

Like the hamper of goodies Saddam provides for the meal, Dinner with Saddam is a feast of richly crafted brilliance. It’s a joy to see something so fresh and forward thinking that has the power to make you laugh, cry and ponder all at once.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

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