Audience interaction is not unusual at Edinburgh Fringe but in Rhum and Clay’s new show, Project Dictator, the audience inadvertently find themselves ushering in a totalitarian regime that destroys freedom and creativity. It is an unexpected outcome for a show that starts off with light-hearted clowning about and slapstick – despite clues in the show’s subtitle, “Why Democracy is Overrated and I Don’t Miss It At All”. In front of a traditional red theatre curtain, Hamish MacDougall plays the part of a dull politician seeking election, with Julian Spooner as his unwilling sidekick. But the sidekick rebels and reverses their roles, using comedy and charm to win over the audience despite his obvious ineptitude as a political leader.

The first half of the show is a delightful display of physical comedy and broad humour, accompanied by Matt Wells on keyboard, but, jarringly, the tone suddenly changes and we are faced with the consequences of our approval of a populist politician. The fun and laughs are gone, although some in the audience nervously titter, and instead the two performers – with white face paint and red noses – are forced into endlessly repeating outdated harlequinade routines that deny creativity and progress. Rhum and Clay inject some hope into this bleak scenario but it remains a shocking and chilling warning, proving the potential for clowning to be subversive and political.

Project Dictator runs at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Fringe until 27 August 2022. Tickets at