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Desperately Seeking Saddam
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online, Entertainment Staff

 

Group of Saddams
The lookalike Saddams - actors and amateurs

It is a scene right out of a US secretary of state's nightmare. Not just one Saddam Hussein, but 14 of them.

Saddam Hussein, by all accounts, is alive and well in a theatre in west London. And he has multiplied.

But the beret and uniform-bedecked dictators frowning from the platform are not the real thing. They are all wannabe Saddams - actors and amateurs alike - hoping to play the recently deposed Iraqi leader in a forthcoming West End show.

The director, Geoffrey Posner, is asking the pretend Iraqi dictators to solemnly wave to an imaginary crowd, a scene similar to countless news reports.

One by one they shuffle to the podium. They glower. They glare. There are stiff grins and stiffer salutes. There are an awful lot of fake moustaches.

And there are some uncanny resemblances too. To Omar Sharif, to Groucho Marx, to Che Guevara, and occasionally even to Saddam Hussein himself.

Saddam hoax waves to crowd

Another hoax Hussein waves to the crowd

The satirical show that requires these fake despots does not yet have a name or a venue, but is due to hit London stages this summer. It is being written by Alistair Beaton, a former joke writer for Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Raymond Gubbay, the theatre impresario who came up with the idea for the show, says it will take a sideways look at the war and the international situation that lead to it.

It is still being written in order to reflect post-Saddam Iraq.

"The war came and went so quickly, and we want it to be as contemporary as possible.

"We want it to be something between a review and a satirical show," he says.

Damascus call

"Certainly it's not all about Saddam, but also our government and our country and what was done in our name," he says.

He says that the call for fake Saddams, advertised in theatre paper The Stage, prompted a call from a man in Damascus - though the caller was cagey about his past.

If any of Saddam's official body doubles are considering treading the West End boards, its unlikely they are here today.

Saddam or Stalin?
Steve Harris (right) - Saddam Hussein or Josef Stalin?

The parade of Saddams are mostly a dictionary definition of "passing resemblance". They all have different reasons for donning moustaches and army fatigues.

Steve Harris, a 34-year-old actor and director from north London, says "I just wanted to play Saddam.

"It is such a fun part to play. It's like a free licence to play a psychotic lunatic," he says.

Harris is a good three decades younger than the missing dictator, but this does not seem to bother him, although one of the main reasons he took part was "it was raining and I didn't think many people would turn up".

While Harris' Saddam is no doppelganger, he has been told he looks uncannily like Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin, something of a Saddam prototype.

Own moustache

There are some who look like the Iraqi leader if you squint hard enough, though Phyllis Norton, the only woman in the line-up, looks less like Saddam and more like 30s comedian Groucho Marx. She admits that she is only there for "a laugh".

The most natural lookalike is Michael Hyatt, a towering former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company whose scowl and slow wave are pure Saddam. The moustache, impressively, is also his own, albeit dyed.

Hyatt, "65 last month", has just retired and has come along to the auditions at the behest of friends.

He admits that a "15-year-old on the tube recently stopped him and said: "Here, do you know you look like Saddam Hussein?" but he is worried at comments his resemblance is uncanny.

"I'd hope I only looked a little like Saddam Hussein," he says.

But might this be the perfect post-retirement career change? "It's an alternative to going into the daycare centre or the public library every day, certainly."


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