PIFF 2021: Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Christopher Shorr

Former dictators Carlo Supremo (Christopher Shorr) and Jefe Pablo (James P. Jordan) host a telethon to raise money to support future dictators, however a production assistant (Emma Ackerman) has had enough of the various guests (Mary Wright) and their messages.

The Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon, an annual event held to raise money for future dictators – “dictators aren’t born, they’re made”. Amongst this year’s faces are “Iraqi Balboa” Saddam Hussein, everyone’s favourite “wacky neighbour” Muammar Gadaffi, and Joseph Stalin, teaching a vodka-fuelled dance lesson entitled the Autocratic Tactic. However, these aren’t just the regular faces that we’ve come to know and fear. In this adaptation of Touchstone Theatre’s musical Dictators 4 Dummies, featuring the same cast members, the characters take the form of dolls. It would be easy to make comparisons to Team America: World Police, and while there is a flavour of that here there’s something slightly less animated about the figures used here. It takes a bit of time to get used to the presences of the dolls, and the general style of the film, however it’s after a while it’s possible to.

This year’s telethon is hosted by fictional former dictator Carols Supremo (writer-director Christopher Shorr), and his recently reunited friend Jefe Pablo (James P. Jordan). They, alongside their various guests, make clear throughout that “we’re all here for the children”, providing them lessons in how to be a dictator in song form. Gadaffi (Mary Wright provides the voices and various accents for the guest hosts) sings a song about misinformation, fake news and denial with a felt-puppet version of himself. With such themes you can’t help but think that a number of points made over the course of the film’s run-time are perhaps meant to ring true for the Trump presidency, amongst the current landscape of modern politics. Such links are felt and understood however the satire never quite comes through leaving the viewer slightly pushed away. Little Timmy Hitler teaching the recipe to [scape]goat does raise a couple of chuckles, but for the most part the ideas seem like those better on paper, or in the live-action theatre environment than with dolls delivering the more physical elements such as dance numbers.

At the back of the telethon’s set, controlling the mayhem backstage, is Emma Ackerman’s production assistant. She sees dictators come and go, spouting their damaging beliefs and messages for ultimate political control and silencing, feeling her voice angrily rising up in protest with each new plastic face that appears on-screen. Unfortunately this line doesn’t start until a fair way through the film and so initially feels like a brief side-point until quickly fully forming, or moulding into, the main messages of the film – there isn’t exactly a major plotline, which isn’t a bad thing. You just wish that you could have spent more detailed time with the character earlier on. It would certainly stop the more scene-to-scene, character-to-character nature of stages feeling that the film has from being as present.

There are plenty of points and comments made within Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon to reflect the state of modern politics, particularly the recent Trump administration, however the humour of the satire doesn’t always come through. That being said the film format does allow for the mock-telethon format to be fully embraced, and the creators have fun with this through the use of amusing graphics that appear on screen after the cast of dictators reel off more dubious advice for young future world leaders. The dolls certainly don’t act as a distraction, however the feeling that this likely works better in a live-action format, and even as the theatre musical that it started out as, does come to mind every now and then throughout.

Raising plenty of reflective satirical points throughout, the humour of Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon doesn’t always come through. The lack of plot is fine, however a handful of character points do perhaps come into play a bit too late.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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