Trump l’Oeil Review

Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – until 2 October 2022

Reviewed by Debra Stottor


Remember Trump? How could we forget the era of deranged tweets, extreme nepotism and MAGA hats, when US politics appeared to have taken leave of its senses and the rest of the world looked on aghast. The Biden era seems dull in comparison.

This is a musical romp through the Trump years, played for laughs and employing many different theatrical genres to create the full effect of the chaos of the time. Drawing on surrealist influences, this is part cabaret, part circus and part queer theatre, with an equally broad range of music, from rap to pop and including a neatly adapted, storming version of ‘Putting (Putin) on the Ritz’ – there’s even a hefty nod to Dr Seuss in ‘Marvellous Me’, the show’s opening number.

Magritte’s apples are juggled between Bannon and Tillerson as they try and make sense of this strange, Trumpian world, and characters ‘melt’ if they say one forbidden word – unfortunately this is the one word that perfectly describes life under Trump…

Russian influence is brought to the fore, with Putin portrayed as a ruthless gangster, played to perfection by Sarah Louise Hughes, turning the screw, quite literally, on the hapless, clueless president as he fails to deliver his side of the Faustian deal. Vivek Sharma’s Trump bears no physical relation to the man himself, just a blond wig and a suit for visual identification, but the voice and mannerisms are well done, and the sense of a spoilt little boy lost is palpable.

But this isn’t just the tale of Trump’s election and eventual defeat, we also get the highly symbolic love-across-the-divide story of Demi (Tish Weinman) and Rip (Michael Mather), Democrat and Republican, finding each other irresistible, but loathing each other’s politics. Of course, love conquers all. It’s a slightly obvious and somewhat cheesy conclusion, as is the closing song, ‘Better Together’, which looks forward to life after Trump – maybe I’m just too cynical!

The songs not only carry us through the story, as you’d expect, they also contain their own visual illusions (this is the essence of ‘trompe l’oeil’ after all), with messages hidden within. These are revealed on the screen behind the band, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing as that’s at the far end of the long, narrow stage area and there’s always something happening on stage. It’s clever, but maybe a little too clever.

There’s never a dull moment as the multitasking, multi-talented cast sing, dance and tumble their way through this fast-paced show. All in all, this is an ambitious production, bringing together a huge variety of elements, and it’s to the credit of writer Henry Parkman Biggs, director Oli Savage and choreographer Blair Anderson that it all ties together into a highly entertaining evening.