Tag Archives: Rhum and Clay

“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

“The War of the Worlds” at the New Diorama Theatre

Rhum & Clay’s clever new show isn’t based on the titular novel by HG Wells. And it only takes the famous 1938 broadcast by Orson Welles as a starting point. Instead, the show is a stellar theatrical adventure about fact and fiction. A parallel is drawn between the radio play that caused chaos by presenting itself as live reportage, and fake news in the present, exploring both with wit and intelligence.

This is a devised piece, written by Isley Lynn, but stressed as a collaboration, and a high percentage of the ideas work well. There may be a superfluous incidental character or two, maybe even a scene? But the show coalesces well and keeps an audience guessing. As the focus moves from a microphone to a radio and then a recorder for a podcast, interest increases. Throughout, Benjamin Grant’s sound design, which plays such a key role, is commendable.

All four cast members, including Rhum & Clay originators Matthew Wells and Julian Spooner, play to their strengths and impress. Everyone puts in a good turn as Orson Welles, performers of his show and terrified members of the public. But it’s the play’s female characters that stand out: Amalia Vitale and Mona Goodwin do a superb job in their central roles as Lawson and Meena, who encounter one another just before Donald Trump’s election as the latter makes a podcast about a family history that started on the night of that panic- inducing broadcast.

It’s the reactions to Welles’ show that interest this talented team. Reports of hysteria are well known – but are they an urban myth? And what are their contemporary parallels? Enter Trump. With our modern-day journalist travelling to America, and the small town Welles that based his broadcast around, the show gets really smart. It would be easy to identify with Meena, but care is taken to show she is too fond of clichés – Goodwin is excellent here – and she stoops to cheating to get her copy. It’s a brilliant move adding credibility, as Rhum & Clay play with alienating their audience a little! That we end up suspicious of everyone here is healthy. But, trust me, it’s no fake news to say that you should see this show.

Until 9 February 2019


Photo by Richard Davenport

“Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow” at the New Diorama Theatre

This fun show brings film noir vigorously to the stage. It’s a detective adventure story that combines the gumshoe genre’s humour and sentimentality, updates the sexual politics and finds time for a conspiratorial twist. As the power goes out in Los Angeles, the theatre fills with atmospheric shadows. But what exactly is going on at Addison Electric to make all the filaments flicker?

This is a production with plenty of light-bulb moments. The staging, devised by the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company with director Beth Flintoff, sparks with invention. A case of smoke and sliding doors, props are used perfectly, including e-cigarettes. And as you’d expect, Nick Flintoff’s lighting design is essential. The dialogue might disappoint, given the show’s antecedents, but the focus is on movement, with long stretches that show the cast’s prowess and an impressive soundtrack.

There’s some fantastic talent here. In the title role Julian Spooner manages to convey a surprisingly complex hero. Inheriting the job from his father, this little-guy P.I. becomes his own man with satisfying subtlety. Christopher Harrisson and Matthew Wells take on numerous roles faultlessly, as well as gracefully moving around the props on wheels. Showing the mechanics of the staging, down to carrying around the smoke machines and filters for the lights, isn’t new but it’s seldom done with such understated charm.
Hum & Clay present Hardboiled at The New Diorama Theatre. 9th Feb 2016 Photo Credit: Richard Davenport 2016 richard@rwdavenport.co.uk
Stealing the show is Jess Mabel Jones, who plays all the female parts, including Shadow’s secretary and the obligatory femme fatale, using tiny costume changes and great vocal skills. Even a ditzy secretary is given her due, showing a knowing nod to the role of women in film noir. All indicative of a fresh eye on a beloved style, performed with care and creativity.

Until 27 February 2016


Photos by Richard Davenport