Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Trumpageddon' at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 8th August 2017

Trumpageddon reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

There's an outside chance I'll be incinerated in nuclear fire by the time you read this. Who knows what'll happen if Trump manages to light the North Korean touchpaper and spark off World War III? And as a capital and dock, Edinburgh is a sure target. By tomorrow my life might be just another statistic in the Trump/Kim ForeverWar. 

But at least I got to see Trumpageddon first, which gives audiences a weirdly accurate simulation of sharing oxygen with President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, less played and more spiritually inhabiting the body of Simon Jay. Over the space of an hour, we gawp at the most dangerously tumescent ego on the planet running rampant.

The show largely consists of one long improv session, Jay's Trump answering whatever question the audience wants to throw at him. At the performance I saw, he took a lot of personal abuse, along with weirder questions about whether he likes Harry Potter, or whether he has the right to continue living. He reacts to these extremely Trumpily, casually insulting the audience's accents, hometown, name and whether they hesitate when asking the question.

Interspersed with this are a couple of skits. Jay briefly plays Melania, gropes his Secret Service protection and, in an extremely memorable image, cavorts around the stage clutching an inflatable globe singing He's Got The Whole World Is In His Hands. Jay is a quick-witted improviser, never for a moment letting the tangerine mask slip (the closest he comes is deciding that picking on a 13-year-old girl isn't a good look). 

But though the event is generally lighthearted and gently scatological, with Trump basically akin to a dirty old man (albeit a peculiarly orange one), the event is leavened with a layer of horror that this monster is actually leading the free world. In an interview with The Guardian last year Jay said he didn't think he would be able to play Trump if he won the 2016 election as it would be too depressing to satirise”. 

It's not too depressing, but boy does it come close. Over the last two years we've gone from laughing at the inherent ridiculousness of this bonehead, secretly enjoying watching him ran rampant over the not-so-crypto-fascists and Randian gargoyles of the Republican Party, to laughing at the absurd long shot a pussy-grabbin', obviously corrupt lunatic had over a woman who seemed eminently qualified for the job to laughing... well... because what else can you do but laugh when we're in straits as dire as these?

Simon Jay gives us one hell of a target to mock. He's clearly pored over Trump's rallies with a fine toothcomb, identifying every gesticulatory flourish, squint of the eyes, tightening of the lips and alpha-male looming over the microphone stand. Jay allows the spirit of Trump to inhabit his body and personality so fully I'm a little scared for the guy's sanity (he remains in character after the show, mingling with the crowd outside). It can't be good for anyone's mental health to spend this much time intertwined with Trump - the performative equivalent of staring directly into the sun for a couple of hours.

So much of Trumpageddon is audience participation that mileage may vary depending on who's in the audience. I can't be sure, but I suspect mine wasn't the most fertile of terms of improvisation: a lot of questioners seizing their moment in the spotlight to do their own generally unfunny 'bit'. Jay's Trump treats these people with the contempt they deserve, though this puts you in the awkward position of siding with him.

These are dark days. As I type this the real Trump is threatening that North Korean aggression “will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before." I can find gallows humour in much of the Trump presidency - who wouldn't giggle at 'Covfefe', the rise and fall of Anthony Scaramucci or the fabled piss tape (I want to believe...). But it is difficult to maintain a grin at the prospect of Trump incompetently bungling the world into nuclear war. 

Trumpageddon is great fun. It's full of laughs and is a fine achievement in mimicry for Jay. But it's difficult to shake that shiver from your spine.

Trumpageddon is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh Aug 10-15, 17-22, 24-28. Tickets here.

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