Satire remains dead in Trump: The Musical – a King’s Head Theatre show that falls victim to the time in which we live.
One of comedy’s fundamental components is the element of surprise. There’s an anthropological theory that laughter evolved in our ancestors as a way of letting the rest of the pack know that everything was OK after a shock. Caveman Ugg has fallen over, but he’s fine; we laugh to let the rest of the tribe know that all is well. However, as has been argued several times, in the current era of the most outrageous politicians of our lifetimes coming to power, it’s really rather hard to be surprised.
The 80s satire classic Spitting Image worked because its writers exaggerated the personality and image traits of Thatcher and her cohorts – but when the world is run by cartoon characters, there’s not much left to exaggerate. Nothing that can adequately shock or surprise. So unfortunately, despite the best efforts of its creative team, Trump: The Musical falls victim to the time in which we live. When you can actually imagine the US president saying the most heinous and outrageous thing the writers can come up with, the joke doesn’t really land.
Polly Bycroft-Brown, pulling a range of bizarre faces, gives a well observed performance as The Donald, but Kyle Williams’ King Nigel Farage (yes, really) seems to morph at times into a northern farmer, rather than the upper-class, pint swilling frog-man we see in the news. Williams’ clownified Farage is far less vile than the man himself.
Dominic Lo’s lo-fi score for Trump: The Musical rattles along nicely, and is served well by some good voices – particularly from Natasha Lanceley as Putin during Donald Be Mine, the stand out number of the show. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t hum a single musical phrase for you now.
After Trump the Musical, my companion and I wondered whether the audiences of the Weimar Cabaret felt the same way. What’s the point in making fun of fascists we already find ridiculous? What does mocking an already outlandish, dangerous buffoon actually bring to the table in 1933, or indeed in 2019? Will it actually change anything? The programme notes say that the show is “meant to amuse an audience whilst still leaving them questioning the actions of public figures” but here the thing: the Far Right still rose in Germany in 1933 despite the best efforts of Weimar’s satirists.
It’s rising again now, and there doesn’t seem to be much that satire can do to prevent it.