Drawing inspiration from the knowledge that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein really did have a habit of dropping in on his subjects unexpectedly, Anthony Horowitz has concocted this curious mix of broad farce, international politics and lavatory jokes. The setting is a Baghdad bracing itself for bombs in 2003, faced with shortages of power, water and food. The ill-prepared hosts to the President are the family of Ahmed (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and Samira (Shobu Kapoor). Their daughter (Rebecca Grant) is facing an arranged marriage to the odious Jammal (Nathan Amzi), but prefers an out of work actor (Ilan Goodman), who is in the family house posing as a plumber and who is the doppelgänger of Saddam’s security chief (also Goodman of course). In a nutshell, that is the play’s first 55 minutes, the time that it takes for the house guest to arrive. It seems likely that there has been some trimming to the script since the play received a less than rapturous reception after last week’s press night, but still the opening scene, resembling a half-hour family sit-com drawn out to twice the length, is dreadfully laboured. It is padded with weak and obvious jokes and it fails to build up any tension in anticipation of the event that the title tells us is coming. The actors do their best, but, as is always they case with unfunny comedy, they tend to overplay in order to force laughs. Things improve with the arrival of Saddam (Steven Berkoff, gleefully sadistic), as all around him tremble in fear for their lives, but opportunities for biting black humour are passed over in favour of simple comedy and set-piece jokes that are signalled miles ahead. Horowitz also slots in some political observations that, although possibly astute, do not sit well with the context in which they are placed. In the second act, the big compensation in Lindsay Posner’s uninspired production is the performances, Bhaskar and Goodman proving particularly adept at farce and Berkoff ranting as only Berkoff can, The play provides a few good chuckles, but this should not be cited to defend it against the charge of being an overlong mess.
Performance date: 29 September 2015