Book, Music and Lyrics: Henry Parkman Biggs
Music: Preston Jones
Director: Oli Savage
Having had a successful Off-Broadway run, Trump L’Oeil, is an appropriate play on words from the French ‘trompe l’oeil’ for to deceive the eye, as this is a surreal, comical, musical, camp/queer exploration of the Trump presidency through cabaret, acrobatics, song and dance. It’s accompanied by a live musical score ranging from classical to pop, rap and jazz.
Premiering in the UK at Upstairs At The Gatehouse, a well-equipped local theatre of which locals are rightly proud, the audience is split in two with rows either side of the space, allowing for more seating capacity, vertical enough to give all a decent view, and the action happens cleverly in the long space in the middle with a raised area one end and a multi-instrumented quintet on the other.
The show is written by Henry Parkman Biggs who works with Preston Jones on the music to produce an ingeniously complex, challenging play using acoustics, anagrams and lipograms to craft hidden messages into the songs. This is one show where a programme is a must: one song The Pity Party has anagrams every other line. Parkman Biggs tells us that the show really came together with the exemplary energy of the director, Oli Savage, who worked tirelessly tinkering to improve the production along with the choreography by Blair Anderson, both of whom he praises for having added immeasurably to the project.
This hilarious musical follows the journey of Trump, played by Vivek Sharma, in his ascension to power and the surreal comedy to be found in the horror of his presidency turning the world on its head and of two star-crossed lovers Democrat Demi,( Tish Weinman) and Republican Rip (Michael Mather). Sharma makes a deliciously camp Trump, a character ripe for comedic parody and both the lovers have great voices and play well together.
Trump makes a Faustian pact with Putin that gives him sexual gratification for each person he fires with riotous effect. The audience is kept laughing throughout with puns and deeply reflective humour with art imitating life as the public had to come to terms with living through such a surreal political situation and the horror and helplessness as this political journey unfolded.
Savage reflects, though the scars may be far from healed (and dangers still lurking), nothing heals like laughter, which this production contains in spades, seamlessly blending satire, circus, queer cabaret with surrealist art in showing how crazy this period was with an aim of creating a sense of joy and amusement from the horror of Trump’s presidency. Quite rightly, this musical ends in hope with the rousing and energetic song Better Together.
The cast is only ten including ensemble but it feels much bigger with Anderson’s jaw-dropping acrobatic choreography, especially for this relatively small space. Powerful musical numbers are supervised by Mark Crossland with musical direction from Laurence Stannard. This is a cast that can truly deliver. It is full of multi-skilled actor/performers many of whom play several parts, of note being Sarah Louise Hughes who it is difficult to take your eye off but you must, as this play is full of real talent.
Trump L’Oeil is a camp, queer, and very tongue-in-cheek comedy musical but has a depth in its cleverly written songs that are superficially fun but will have you reflecting on them long after the curtain call. Full of hidden messages, illusions and allusions (get that programme!), it deserves to be booked out every night.
Runs until 2 October 2022