Friday, March 24, 2017
Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech...
Synopsis: Nice to see Malkovich in the flesh but the show is rather Just Call Me God-awful.
John Malkovich is no stranger to dark roles, so it is no wonder that he has become a sort of muse to writer-director Michael Sturminger. After exploring two extremes together – a serial killer and Casanova – their third collaboration sees them carry on the theme of extremism. Just Call Me God: The Final Speech of a Dictator premiered in Hamburg earlier this month, and the London stop of its European tour is taking place in the charming Union Chapel. Even before the show starts, amid the bustle of the audience finding their seats, the chapel makes its presence felt and creates a special atmosphere.
While the venue does half the job, Malkovich gamely tries to do the other. Sadly in vain.
He plays Satur Diman Cha, a dictator in hiding who has recently lost all his power. When a group of soldiers and a bold female journalist, Caroline, enter his palace, he attacks them and leaves most of the party for dead. In an attempt to save herself, Caroline challenges the ruler with an impromptu interview, declaring that she is interested in his side of the story. A surreal power game ensues.
The surprising element of Just Call Me God is the number of scenarios normally associated with high tension, if not terror, that become laugh-out-loud moments. The failing is that many of these moments are far from intentionally funny though. Malkovich can be superb in veiling the sinister core of his characters with waves of sheer hilarity but here he simply corpses at his own jokes. Unprofessional? Tedious? A few people left.
The play sits somewhere between theatre and cinema, with cameras on stage and a large screen above the action showing close-ups and otherwise unnoticeable details. Malkovich traditionally is at ease with both mediums but the execution here is poor and confusing - under-rehearsed even.
It is very clear that Sturminger created Satur Diman Cha around Malkovich, because the role fits him like a soggy glove. But the play seems to rely too heavily on its protagonist, and it sometimes becomes apparent that without him it would not hold up half as well. Even when he goes off stage for a few moments, it feels as if what little magic there is is momentarily deactivated.
Since the subject-matter is not fresh, the execution ought to be wildly imaginative to justify its existence. The main character is essentially a medley of dictators, but condensing all the despots into one does not make Satur more powerful, only too generic to offer much beyond an caricature. The problematic factor of depicting a dictator is that this figure has become the villain par excellence, and two-dimensional baddies have never fared too well.
Overall this is a pretty weak production - although bravely supported by the strong presence of Malkovich, it is only the aura of the venue and conductor Martin Haselböck’s organ concerto that makes Just Call Me God experience just about bearable.