Guardian Theatre Review Michael Billington, Thursday January 16, 2003   The Guardian

The Madness of George Dubya  or Dr Strangelove goes to Iraq
Theatro Technis, London       [Theatro Technis, homepage] [Theatro Technis, "Dubya"]

Satire is all but dead on the London stage, so this show by Justin Butcher deserves the warmest of welcomes. Even if it is largely a topical update of Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, it had a packed house at this north London fringe theatre cheering it to the echo.

Butcher's basic idea is very simple: to apply the premise behind Terry Southern's Strangelove script to a war with Iraq. So we have the crazed head of a US air base in Britain, who regards UN weapons inspectors as "pinko, degenerate subversives", launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Saddam Hussein.

While George Dubya cowers in his bunker clutching his teddy bear, panic ensues in Downing Street. But as the dithering PM finally authorises troops to break into the American base, the US military relish the prospect of all-out nuclear war.

In a great line from the film a gung-ho general, confronted by the idea of 20 million nuclear victims, claims: "I don't deny we'll get our hair mussed a little." You could argue that there are all kind of differences between the cold war confrontation envisaged by Kubrick and the threatened war against Iraq.

But what Butcher captures well is the insanity of a situation where, by making a military strike against terror, we actually increase its likelihood.

He also goes well beyond his cinematic prototype by giving the Iraqi ambassador an impassioned speech that charts our dubious relations with his country from the installation of a puppet regime under King Faisal to our supply of arms for the war with Iran.

It may underplay Saddam's cruelties but it makes its political point. The success of the show, however, lies in its creation of a nightmare fantasy that has a kernel of truth: that sections of the US military establishment have long been itching for a war with Iraq.

But Butcher's tactic is to push the situation to the limits of absurdity. Thus the privatised staff at the US air base includes a terrorist tea lady, dashingly played by Lindsey Ellis, who ultimately holds the world leaders to ransom.

And, as the world is about to go up in flames, a British general politely asks the PM if he has had any offers on his Bristol flats.

Butcher's production, climaxing in Tom Lehrer's (*) We'll All Go Together, has a surprising jauntiness; and, in a large cast, Richard Leaf as the crazed general obsessed by bodily fluids, Andrew Havill as an ineffectual group captain, and Nicholas Burns as the vacillating PM stand out.

Even if Butcher's basic narrative is borrowed it shows that satire can still be an effective weapon in a time of crisis.

· Until February 8. Box office: 020-7387 6617

(*) ”We’ll All Go Together When We go”:  Song #11 on Tom Lehrer’s CD “An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer”