Tag Archives: Hamish MacDougall

“Project Dictator” at the New Diorama Theatre

It’s not uncommon for a night at the theatre to combine comedy and tragedy. But Rhum + Clay’s new show moves from laughs to trauma particularly well. So well, it makes Project Dictator difficult to write about. This is one of those shows that knowing too much about might spoil. 

Co-directors and performers Julian Spooner and Matt Wells take their audience on a theatrical journey full of smart surprises. Assisted with direction by Hamish MacDougall, and joined onstage by composer and musician Khaled Kurbeh, Project Dictator has lot to say and plenty of ideas. The show is well executed throughout.


So, what’s going on? We start with a serious play within the play…but performed as a farce. An earnest writer and performer, Jeremy, is an appealing character. There’s the kind of observation – and panegyric to democracy – we expect. Gently mocking, not least artists like themselves, Spooner and Wells show strong comedy skills. A little slapstick goes a long way.

There are more laughs as Jeremy’s single cast member, a supernumerary who finds his voice, takes over. With a power struggle onstage, and calling on the crowd, we get the dictator the title promises. There’s a lot of audience participation here – be prepared to read out loud, dance in your seat and even draw. Jeremy shares my feelings about a fourth wall, and I can’t say I enjoyed all this. But, unlike a lot of audience participation, it is very well done and has a point.

This dictator wants more fun…but very deliberately the show doesn’t become funnier. At what point do you notice a sinister edge? The satire becomes keener, and that participation has an aim – to highlight how easy complicity with a charismatic figure can be.  The tone is more provocative and, had the show ended here, I’d have still been happy.

There’s a final surprise though, where Project Dictator becomes very dark indeed. It turns out what we’ve seen is the performance of comedians who get into trouble with a real regime. Stripped and hooded, after their anarchy, the curtain rises again on a chillingly controlled mime show. Forced to perform, and showing their fear, will a final act of rebellion occur? Now that I won’t reveal.

Until 30 April 2022


Photos by Cesare De Giglio

“Trap Street” at the New Diorama

This new work from Kandinsky Theatre is about homes, communities and the housing crisis in London. Issues such as the poor planning of estates, and the inaccessible pricing of new buildings in London, are all addressed with a sensibly even hand so that the debate is comprehensive and intelligent.

Unlike the homes we see on stage, the architecture of this theatrical piece is sound. Focusing on one estate, and one family who moved in when it felt like a utopia, is a good idea. The play goes back and forth in time effortlessly, as we come up to date to see the family’s daughter holding out for a better price from the land’s new developers – a topical scenario with plenty of emotive power. But as a devised piece the play’s construction runs into problems: too many plot lines are raised and left unexplored. The show could easily be expanded beyond its 80 minutes and should have been edited with a stricter hand by its co-writers James Yeatman and Lauren Mooney.

As for the delivery of the show, a trio of performers does very well indeed. Amelda Brown effortlessly portrays both mother and daughter as the play moves around in time. As the former, she shows a steely determination and wins sympathy trying to build a community, then, as the daughter she is excluded from the area due to gentrification. Danusia Samal and Hamish MacDougall take on a wider variety of roles and there’s some snagging – pretending to be a dog is an idea that should have been abandoned in the rehearsal room – but both acquit themselves admirably and again manage the change in attitudes over time superbly. What Kandinsky has built here is something to be proud of.

Until 31 March 2018


Photo by Richard Davenport

“The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca” at the Drayton Arms Theatre

Former theatre critic Nicholas de Jongh’s second work, The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca, is currently playing at the charming Drayton Arms pub theatre in South Kensington. As with De Jongh’s first piece, Plague over England, which gained a West End transfer, it explores an event in history through the fate of a gay icon – this time the Spanish Civil War and one of Spain’s most famous writers. You can’t doubt the play’s ambition, and the subject matter is interesting. Unfortunately, the work will disappoint many with its confusing structure, pretentious touches and poor performances.

The identity of Lorca’s last, secret lover was only revealed in 2012 and The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca looks at the impact this romance had on the young man, Juan Ramirez de Lucas, both at the time and in his old age. De Jongh seems swayed by his journalistic past into using the topical peg of a recent discovery. Sadly, the decision to finally tell the story to the world isn’t as interesting as what actually happened.

Switching between the past and present shouldn’t be as confusing as this production makes it. Even worse, interaction between Lorca and Juan feels truncated, while a scene with Lorca in prison ends up more bizarre than weighty. Matters are further complicated by an examination of Britain’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. This is interesting enough to be a play in its own right, but is reduced to a blatantly superfluous opening scene where a British couple discover Lorca’s body in the grounds of their holiday home.

Working out what to make of De Jongh’s play is tricky; the raw material is promising but Hamish MacDougall’s direction makes little effort to aid clarity. There are good performances from Damien Hasson and Matthew Bentley; a convincing Lorca and intense Juan who work well together. However, the other performers seem woefully lost. It’s unusual to see such a low standard of work on London’s fringe, and vaguely embarrassing. Lorca would be more than unquiet in his grave – he would be spinning in it.

Until 26 October 2014


Photo by Ed Clark

Written 5 October 2014 for The London Magazine