In a wickedly absurd cabaret, Trump’s presidency is reflected upon as a backdrop to a tender queer love story between Republican Rip and Democrat Demi, who struggle through their political differences in the face of their love for each other. Through a titillating cacophony of vignettes, surprises, and deceits, we are reminded that all is often not what it seems; that we might all benefit from a little more mercy and understanding, when “together, we make a better rhythm”.
Henry Parkman Biggs’ script has moments of sheer brilliance; not always directed to their full potential, and a fair few jokes don’t quite hit the mark, but it is his songs (with Preston Jones’ musical collaboration) that make this show the delight it has the potential to be – with wit, flare, and genius creativity, each song is an artwork in and of itself that can be assessed, critiqued, and interpreted to a minute degree. The nods to surrealist art, such as René Magritte’s The Son of Man, are clever and fun without being distracting for anyone who may not pick up on the references.
Though the show certainly leans into the notion of surreal, it could use more coherence both in tone and format – for instance, Sarah Louise Hughes welcomes us in as The Imitator and seems to MC a few scenes, but other jumps in the story happen without her introduction or guidance which feels unnecessarily jarring. While confusion is certainly a deliberate and effective element of this production, even still it wants for a little clarity. There also lacks a consistent understanding across performers and direction about the weird and wonderful Brechtian style that must juxtapose the more naturalistic tender scenes between Rip and Demi in order to make the most of this beautifully bizarre piece of theatre.
While every cast member is strong, Alex Wadham’s performance as Rip completely steals our hearts – he performs with such sincerity and depth what could easily be but another in a sea of caricatures, and when he starts to sing, we wish he wouldn’t stop. Emer Dineen’s Trump impression is really fantastic at its best, though drops in and out throughout the performance. Hughes never commits less than 110% to each of her wildly varied and ridiculous roles as The Imitator – she stands out in this cast in the way she masters the surrealist-cabaret style of this piece, not to mention her impressive acrobatics. And Yasmin Sharp shows off her knack for comedy whenever she’s on stage.
The cast do very well with the limited staging and resource available in this space, but at times this does undermine the atmosphere – it will be interesting to see how it evolves in larger venues. Blair Anderson’s choreography is fabulous, drawing us into the performative fun of this show – one stand-out involves a perfectly executed torch routine that is uniquely affecting. Coupled with Jack Weir’s lighting design, we do start to experience the cabaret environment that this piece so desperately needs.
Certainly a work of art, Trompe L’Oeil is a unique and interesting evening with great potential.
It runs at The Other Palace Studio until 15th October.
Review: Penny Lane Photo: Danny Kaan