When Donald Trump became the 45th American president there was a strange reaction from many comedians who felt that he was so ridiculous yet abhorrent that he was, as Armando Iannucci put it in a 2020 interview, “beyond satire”. But it’s a stance I’ve never understood, and something that Trompe L’Oeil proves absolutely incorrect, to serve as a very satisfying full stop to the argument.
It’s a musical that highlights the insanity of the man’s actions, which mocks his astonishing arrogance and stupidity. Yet it teases and toys with and tortures the man in such a way that it never feels like a simple caricature. I’ve seen many a Trump impersonation over the past seven years and Emer Dineen‘s is for my money the best yet, and the only one which feels like a portrayal of a monster and a human being.
While Trump’s antics are a large part of the play, the soul of it is the love story between Demi and Rip (Dominic Booth and Alex Wadham, both sublime); the unlikeliest of couples as Rip is a die hard republican and Trump fan, while Demi is a left leaning democrat. Rip’s not the smartest cookie either as, despite Demi’s attempts to tell him, he doesn’t realise that Demi is a man. However, the production is careful not to make either seem two-dimensional, as both are flawed and complex but also simply doing their best to understand this increasingly deranged world.
There’s a lovely absurdist touch, introduced early on as we discover the fate of anyone who describes the world as surreal, and a show that also includes a number of scenes featuring incredibly impressive physical comedy. Director Blair Anderson has clearly delighted in bringing out the best in his cast: he allows them to leap around (and even off) the stage if need be, but he also knows the importance of balance – to not exhaust the audience, and the gentler moments are some of the play’s best.
The beautifully constructed songs are all packed with smart, funny lines, and writer Henry Parkman Briggs tackles multiple genres to create a soundtrack that I wish I could have bought the moment the play ended. Certain numbers are just daft madness, like “Bounce”, which features Trump firing people left, right and centre, and the cast perform the kind of stunts that would impress at a circus. But there’s also an exceedingly affecting love song, an extremely funny deconstruction of Ivanka Trump from Olivia Saunders who plays her like a marionette – and I could go on and on: there really wasn’t a single song I didn’t love and that very rarely ever happens in a musical.
It mentions in the programme that Parkman Biggs has been working on this for the last eight years. You really can tell, not only because of the way recent events have shaped the play, but also because it’s clear how much time has been put in to it to make it as inventive and imaginative and as playful as possible. Early on there’s a fresh, light, and immensely fun atmosphere created that resonates through the entire production, and as Demi and Rip found themselves falling in love with each other, I found myself falling head over heels for the show.
Book, Music and Lyrics by: Henry Parkman Biggs
Directed by: Blair Anderson
Musical Direction by: Georgia Rawlins
Musical Supervisor/Arranged by: Mark Crossland
Choreography by: Blair Anderson
Set Design by: Justin Williams
Costume Design by: Reuben Speed
Lighting Design by: Jack Weir
Produced by: Funky Tickle Productions
Trompe L’Oeil runs until 15 October in the studio theatre at The Other Palace. Further information and bookings can be found here.