David Carl comes to Edinburgh with Gary Busey’s Hamlet already to his name and he delivers a bravura performance as the tangerine-in-chief in this production which marries the most powerful man on the planet with perhaps Shakespeare’s most tragic hero. Trump Lear is a political impressions show that packs a prodigious number of fantastic imitations into its hour and also serves as a powerful comment on freedom of artistic speech.
The premise of David Carl’s production is that his character – Carl David (an actor fresh from a tour of Donald Trump’s King Lear) – is kidnapped and forced to perform the show for the President’s pleasure. The alternative? He will be killed by Donald’s drones. A further twist emerges through the reveal that Carl David’s ‘performance’ is being live-streamed online by Trump for the viewing public in a slice of dark social commentary worthy of Black Mirror. Facebook likes, loves and reactions pop up on a screen at the side of the stage at regular intervals, also featuring progressively hilarious and deranged ‘commercial breaks’ featuring Trump eating money and flexing non-existent muscles.
“A bravura performance as the tangerine-in-chief”
The show moves between Carl David’s staging of a condensed version of King Lear and Trump’s interruptions heard on overhead speakers (also performed by David Carl). The President’s famously short attention span is displayed front and centre in this production and he interrupts Carl David so frequently that we quickly gain a realistic sense of the stress under which he is being placed. In fact, I have rarely seen a production which explores a performer’s descent into madness more thoroughly than this.
Aside from his exploration of a literal dancing monkey (forced to perform for Trump’s pleasure) and a fantastic range of political impressions from Trump himself to Boris and the Brothers Bush, Trump Lear reflects David Carl’s acute attention to detail and extensive research into King Lear itself. This minutia extends down to the choices of condiments for each politician (whose paper faces are stuck atop each bottle), including Marmite for Boris and vodka for Putin. Lear’s bluster, frequent inability to articulate his feelings (‘I will do such things’), descent into madness and a disturbing affection for his daughters all come to resonate strongly with David Carl’s Trump.
This, on the whole, is a brilliant example of a well-researched parody that uses the play upon which it riffs to say something about society rather than simply mocking the original text. I recommend it wholeheartedly for both its comedic riches and the commentary which it delivers on artistic censorship.
Trump Lear is running at the Pleasance Courtyard: Bunker One at 11:40 until Monday 26th August.