CALLUM ROSS reviews The People Vs Donald Trump at the London Theatre.
The People Vs Donald Trump is a political satire: it could be described as the left’s wish-fulfilment of Trump’s demise. In an imagined trial, he is accused of injustice against The People and is unsurprisingly found guilty. Unfortunately, the production falls far short of meaningful satire, only adding another brick to the left’s echo chamber rather than developing the purposeful attack on Trump it ought to.
The show begins with Melania Trump (Kristina Garrow) watching the infamous video of the President’s ‘grab them by the pussy’ boasts on a TV screen. This is one of the better uses of the screen, as it gives the audience an insight into the emotional reality behind news seen on television. However, the TV is largely used as a crutch rather than an accessory to the production: various YouTube videos are shown, including a Trump analysis by Vox and a mashup of his contradictory statements. As the funniest moments of the production, these do more to highlight the insufficiencies of the writing than anything else, and they certainly don’t present anything new on the subject. This is not to say the videos themselves are not entertaining or interesting; they are, but the use of them is not.
As the play progresses, more of the Trump family are introduced, alongside others such as Vladimir Putin (Molly Merwin) and a fictional illegitimate daughter of Trump’s named Melinda Meyers (Davina Jackson). Why this character is written into the play is not clear: there is enough evidence of Donald Trump’s real life atrocities already, so inventing domestic scandals only weakens the play’s argument. This is not a constructive debate – it is a political fetish. Matt Shelton’s Trump is one of the more confident performances; however, the aforementioned YouTube videos highlight the dissimilarities between the real Trump and his portrayal – beyond general loudness (far too loud for such a small venue) there is very little true comparison.
Vladimir Putin (Molly Merwin) is the character with the most potential to draw the discussion in the show into a comment on current political affairs, so it’s disappointing that the character’s role is reduced by a poor Russian accent. Perhaps Merwin’s ‘yis, mistir prisidint’ is deliberately overplayed; if so it’s hardly a very profound piece of satire in what is supposed to be ‘a highly provocative expose’ according to the program—a terrible accent is surely the blandest way of parodying.
This is the problem with the production as a whole: its satire is lost in its fantasy. The second half is comprised of an imagined trial in which the prosecuting lawyer announces ‘He [Donald Trump] admitted his own guilt’. This is too much of a delicious pipe dream to have any grounding remaining in reality and so the argument is lost. The production aims to present a response to Donald Trump in which he is personally attacked by the communities that suffer under his administration. But as the show wholly replaces reality with the imagined, it undermines its own power to criticise.
The People Vs Donald Trump renders itself unable to engage in debate; merely deriding Trump is not a productive contribution to political discourse in the arts. So yes, we know Donald Trump is a disgusting, sexist, selfish man; no, we do not need a play to remind us of this. In order for The People Vs. Donald Trump to succeed, it needed to go further than this.
The People Vs Donald Trump ran at the London Theatre from 19th-24th September. Find more information here.