You won't get Fried Chicken from this ColonelOkay, the reason why Gaddafi: A Living Myth was not called Gaddafi: The Opera hits you almost straight away in the production. It is not the heavy beats, samples and muezzin sampling score – you could still have a libretto over that. It is the fact that barely anybody sings. So forget that were are at the home of the English National Opera, the Coliseum, and instead consider yourself at a small fleapit venue at the Edinburgh festival. Under those conditions, Gaddafi: A Living Myth is an almost complete triumph. It is a two hour long history lesson on Gaddafi acted over some punchy music with the odd dance routine thrown in. Never as tasteless as it should be, never as shocking as it might be, it still works as a piece of theatre.

Unfortunately it is in the Coliseum and therefore different rules apply. The staging, with its projections and clever bits of stunt theatre are more akin to a musical from up the road, but is symptomatic at the money thrown at this production. If you gave some of the crowd some rotten fruit that might have been thrown too. And yet despite the walkouts (and there were plenty of walkouts) there were plenty of cheers too. And it is not an old person / young person divide. It is a divide of expectation. Perhaps the best thing to happen to Gadaffi was to get those vicious reviews last week. Because I was expecting it to be a trial, and walked out having enjoyed it, rubbish rhymes and all.

It is not an opera though. And it never really tries. The rhyming couplets that Ramon Tikaram spits out as Gadaffi are crude, but only occasionally embarrassingly poor. And the beats edging on drum and bass which the armed and cute dancers pump along to are reminiscent much more of Public Enemy than Public Enemy Number One that Gaddafi saw himself as. But the production flounders not due to bad writing, acting or music: it has difficulty because of the very unknowableness of its subject. It succeeds when it uses Gaddafi as a mirror to the rest of the world: the Reagan and Tony Blair scenes may be sixth form satire, but they do work well. And still having time to do all this and consider (remarkably tastefully) Lockerbie and WPC Yvonne Fletcher.

So it is a show as schizophrenic as their portrayal of the Colonel (why did he never promote himself?) If it had not been at ENO it might have garnered better notices, but also flopped massively. But the strangeness of the piece makes it watchable, even enjoyable. There was a real sense at the end that we’ll not see its like again. Not that it would be a bad thing, but you were in the presence of an odd form of history. Probably how people who saw the RSC’s musical version of Carrie may have felt.

As for the use of it to the Opera. The argument was that in getting a younger crowd in for this pop opera (not a phrase anyone uses) they might come back for actual opera. I thought this was a nonsense argument before going to the Coliseum tomorrow. Now I am not so sure. For Gaddafi reminded me that you can be interested by something without actually liking it, be challenged and enjoy something. Sometimes a mess is better than perfection, and Asian Dub Foundation and ENO have made one hell of a mess. But I quite liked it.