Writer: Anthony Horowitz
Director: Lindsay Posner
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The war in Iraq remains a contentious issue, one that caused considerable protest and derision when it began in 2003. And now, so many years on the consequences of the political and military decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussain from the Presidency are being felt. Was it really the only option or was it a hasty decision that failed to fully comprehend the vacuum it would create? Anthony
Horowitz’s new comedy Dinner With Saddam is packed with ideas about the effect of Hussain’s presidency on life in Iraq and, without sympathy for him, the fragile balance of power he maintained in the region.
Horowitz has quite a back catalogue of work that encompasses long-running TV series, novels and film. Most recently he has become increasingly recognised for his homages to great literary characters, writing new Sherlock Holmes and a recently released Bond novel. Here in Dinner With Saddam it seems that Horowitz is paying tribute to ‘Allo ‘Allo, the 80s Croft and Perry sitcom set in
Second World War France, where a cast of over the top characters falls into a number of weekly mishaps. Similarly, the Alawai family are happily bickering one day when they suddenly find the Iraqi
President has invited himself round for dinner – something he often did apparently. But during this unexpected visit, they must conceal actors dressed as plumbers, a daughter with radical sympathies and some unfortunate catering.
If anything this is primarily a conventional farce that is littered with slapstick moments and extreme characterisation. Its attempt to mix some pretty low-brow toilet humour with the more serious debates about the value of Hussain’s regime, don’t always sit comfortably together and an extended scene in which Hussain (Stephen Berkoff) justifies his reign just distracts from the primary comedy for too long.
There are lots of enjoyable moments and director Lindsay Posner ensures that events escalate out of control nicely before the interval. Tim Shorthall’s two room set allows action to occur in both places, which is a source of much of the comedy.
Sanjeev Bhaskar leads the cast as Ahmed Alawai the householder who spends his time bickering with his wife and trying to improve his social position – almost exactly like café owner Rene from ‘Allo.
Allo. Bhaskar is particularly good at the physical comedy and draws some well-deserved laughs trying to fit into a too-tight suit. Nathan Amazi was also particularly good as local traffic policeman and informant Jammal, bringing just the right amount of small-minded power to the rôle. Meanwhile, Ilan Goodman gives us his best Herr Flick as Colonel Farouk, Saddam’s security officer and official food taster. It’s not a show for subtle performances.
The unrecognisable Berkoff as Saddam is actually on stage far less than you would imagine from the title and he makes Hussain casually callous, joking about the people he has killed as if they were happy memories of picnics or holidays. He’s not especially menacing or imposing but brings an interesting boredom with the adulation of fame. Occasionally he does veer into an impression of Peter Ustinov as Poirot so you’d expect him to work out all the things being concealed in the house.
Horowitz has included some interesting debates about the rôles of women in Iraqi society, particularly in the impending marriage of daughter Rana (a feisty Rebecca Grant) and whether it’s right for her to accept a life of motherhood and cleaning, rather than the career as a nurse that she wants.
Although overlong, Dinner With Saddam carefully manages to condemn the war without sympathising with Hussain, yet by focusing so fully on the farce, it takes something away from the rather dramatic ending and the political message Horowitz is trying to make. There are lots of laughs but Dinner With Saddam leaves you hungry.
Runs until14 November | Image: Catherine Ashmore