by Laura Ferguson
It is also a social commentary on the media saturation this election has caused, details of which have often overshadowed more important world events. The newsreel dies away and we are greeted by Alexander Sparrow’s Donald J. Trump, in the flesh. Even more flesh than we anticipated as he comes to us in a bathrobe.
The President is set up as if we, the audience, have an opportunity to ghostwrite a brand new almanac that will “Make America Great Again” and it works brilliantly to the performer’s advantage and Sparrow’s version of The Trump is affabrous. The makeup artistry of Katie Boyle does an fantastic job of really detailing the personification, the chiaroscuro effect of orange versus white being very pronounced making the whole visual entertaining.
I am no Donald Trump fan, and neither was this night’s audience. As satire, it is pungent, stinking of all the horrid Trump-iness you could ask for. There is also a clear influence of the Stephen Colbert character from The Colbert Report in this show, a tongue-in-cheek way on playing everything you’re not. Coming from a more lenient perspective on Mr. Trump, The President can be viewed as parody, a fun roast of a maligned man.
The President is an interesting social experiment; you are consistently asking yourself, ‘Am I laughing at the racism, or because the comment is so like something Trump has previously said?’ Such internalizing of the show then leads to the horrifying thought of: ‘Am I more like Trump than I want to admit?’ ‘Is laughing at Trump correcting his use of “Muslims” to “terrorists” funny because the character believes them to be more the latter than the former, or am I laughing because of the stereotype?’ The first answer you want to believe, the second a worrying self-reflection. Forcing the audience to make regular visitations to these hidden parts of themselves is what makes this experience truly unique.
In conjunction with creating your own running inner monologue, Sparrow has written this show in layers and makes sly references to more liberal agendas such as Before the Flood and Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Earth is a spaceship’ theory. An overt mention of Salman Rushdie early on alerts the audience to look out for the subtle clues hidden throughout. Due to these, I would love to view this show again to hunt for more of them.
Sparrow’s truly astounding captivation of the audience was startling. The inspired decision to begin with showing Trump as a normal, everyday person provided not only elements of comedy but also normalised the character, reminding us that even someone like Trump is deserving of empathy. He embodies Trump so well you often feel anger, visceral and boiling, and you constantly have to remind yourself that this is a piece of fiction. These are the moments when you laugh, at the figure before you and also at yourself.
A particular stroke of genius from Sparrow are the contradictions he throws into it. I am rather a stickler for logical consistencies but since this is so in line with Trump’s character, I laughed at every example that came about. There is also an excellent use of oxymoronic and nonsensical dialogue, which made me sometimes laugh too loud and too long, especially one about Christmas and Hannukah that I enjoyed fabulously. Such remarks are dotted all over the narrative and you have to keep a keen ear listening to pick up on them.
The director, Patrick Davies, should be credited with the decisions he made to make Sparrow’s performance shine even brighter. One-man shows generally have to rely on music and lighting among other crafts to maintain audience engagement, but Sparrow’s innate confidence ekes out and coats the audience in his gravitas, making it more understandable why so many Americans are enthralled by this man. He spends an hour in front of you, making you laugh, making you angry, making you question the media and more importantly, yourself, and then it dawns that this was achieved without any change in lighting or music and solely by Sparrow’s transformative powers. Using the construct of writing a book and the slow process of the President dressing himself allows for the comedy to build and it’s not until you leave the theatre that you realise the true impact of Sparrow’s performance.
The President is incredible and highly recommended for anyone that is a fan of satire or just wants to laugh at the outstanding character portrayal Alexander Sparrow achieves with this show. This is a must-see leading up to the election, even just for the curious element of potential prophecy for what could occur post November 8th.
The President is at BATS from the 1-5 November at 8:30pm. Tickets are available at www.bats.co.nz