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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Project Dictator

Rhum + Clay

Genre: Clown, Political, Theatre

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard


Low Down

Their choice? To die on stage – or off it. Beautiful and bonkers – it’s the clown show about totalitarianism you never knew you needed. Informed and inspired by conversations with international artists living under authoritarian regimes.


It all starts with Tobias, a mild mannered man in a suit with an ever present grin, who wants to offer a better life in the future. So far so good. Jeremy enters, in a boiler suit and seems to be a good listener. They are two typical people that we would find in our own locality, they both seem genial, flexible, taking life as it comes and working hard to make a living. Tobias fancies himself as bit a leader in the future and Jeremy is the perfect supportive friend willing to help.

Project Dictator is Rhum + Clay’s newest show and is devised and performed by artistic directors Julian Spooner and Matthew Wells. Rhum + Clay create devised shows with a focus on physical theatre and topics that are contemporary, urgent and significant.

The director’s note in the programme states that: For this production we felt it was particularly important to speak to those who have had a different lived experience to us; those who have lived and tried to make art under authoritarian or oppressive regimes. We spoke to artists from all over the world; from Syria, Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela, Hungary, Azerbaijan, and Thailand.

Jeremy, played by Spooner, and Tobias, played by Wells are characters based on the style of theatrical clowns, which are not only endearing, naive and often based on the traits of everyday people – but theatrically, they also relate on two dimensions, to each other and to the audience. This pair play very well together with fast-paced repartee, physicality and skilfully develop complicity with the audience as we become part of the present and upcoming situation.

Spooner and Wells interact playfully, wittily and literally. They expertly use physical movement, hilarious zippy dialogue and an assortment of props that cleverly bring out humour that builds and builds, it’s very entertaining and well crafted devised theatre. 

Tobias is the sensible one while Jeremy is the one who wants to makes life more fun and he athletically changes direction in and out of bins, coming up with new ideas and strategies to bring Tobias into his philosophy of fun!

A very funny bit is with duelling megaphones, then Jeremy tackles climate change, continuing to push his naive character to its limits, and Tobias understands what’s happening. After a while things develop in a different – but possibly an inevitable direction – into unexpected territory that is deeply meaningful and dramatic.

Spooner and Wells are accomplished actors and inspired theatre makers. They have developed every moment of this piece with immense creative expression physically, visually and underlying earnestness to tell this complex story – with deep respect for the international creative artists who shared their stories. Spooner distinguishes himself with his outstanding physical and emotional performance as he goes really deep, crosses the threshold of buffoonery into somewhere else with poignant and chilling subtext.

The set is simple with an interesting crawling electronic message board that provides brief but important information. A musician sits onstage to the right playing several instruments and providing sound effects, which add to the atmosphere of the piece. 

A fast set change reveals what looks like an actor’s dressing room with lights around make-up mirrors and Spooner and Wells sitting and waiting…

I will not give spoilers, but go and see this outstanding – more than highly recommended – entertaining, meaningful, provocative show told through the lens of two people – two ordinary clowns – how human traits develop – and how creative artists and others are affected.